It's an unprecedented bonanza that follows an unparalleled disaster. Perhaps because of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it's easy to forget that we've been in this position before. Oil and gas revenues represented 41 percent of the state's cash flow in 1981 and 1982, when the fabled boom yielded a $1.6 billion surplus. Those were heady days, epitomized by a freewheeling style of politics that put little emphasis on fiscal accountability. Of course, the boom quickly turned to bust and the money vanished, having been frittered away when there was plenty of it to go around. Among the few legacies remaining from those days are bitter memories of an opportunity lost, a piece of history we may be doomed to repeat.
The December special session was as desperate as it was telling. Gov. Kathleen Blanco called it hastily, almost as soon as she realized the extra dollars were there, and without much advance planning with her key legislative allies. A transparent wish list in the form of an official agenda was thrown together and politics trumped public discussion as Blanco apparently looked ahead to her re-election campaign. It didn't take long for her top allies to desert her. In the time allotted to the session ' a mere 10 days ' what else could she have expected? The result was foreseeable yet unacceptable.
As the year turns anew, the communications breakdown doesn't appear to be getting any better.
If the billions in new money are so important, where is the appeal for public input? When and where are the town hall meetings? Why aren't state legislators using their taxpayer-funded office expense accounts to reach out to residents through mailers or other means? Thus far, the only direction has come from the same old sources ' press releases from a few elected officials, special interests and think tanks. And they don't all agree. Something has got to give; an intense public debate needs to be held statewide before the Legislature meets again in late April.
The Public Affairs Research Council, a Baton Rouge-based nonprofit that monitors the activities of state government and issues policy papers, describes the December effort as a "waste" that "failed to allow for sufficient planning." The best outcome identified by PAR is that the session may act as a catalyst for further debate. Oddly enough, the group also tagged $239 million in tax credits passed during the session for insurance surcharge reimbursements as "unnecessary." They will cost an estimated $56 million to $82 million annually, PAR argues, and there is no long-term benefit to the credits. PAR also claims the credits will do nothing to solve the crisis of insurance affordability.
C.B. Forgotston, a Hammond attorney and political activist who has an immense following online, pounced on PAR in one of his opinion columns. The tax credit does nothing to exacerbate the current insurance crisis, he says. It simply makes private insurance purchased by homeowners and businesses slightly more affordable. "PAR has belittled the amount that each policyholder would receive from the credit as not much money," Forgotston says. "It may be a surprise to PAR, but the amount of money involved means a lot to middle class families and small businesses." Largely, however, Forgotston slammed the nonprofit for not offering any solutions to the problem.
That divide underscores a larger dilemma, which Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, an influential statewide lobby, refers to as the "us factor." During the recent carnival of riches, those in seats of power forgot those for whom they spend the state's money. "Remember us?" Juneau asks. "We are the folks who go to work every day and add value to life in Louisiana. We run small businesses, work shifts, raise our kids, dote on our grandchildren, and pay the sales taxes, income taxes, property taxes, and fees that have fed the huge growth in the state budget during the last decade."
The only statewide survey showing how real people might feel about spending priorities can be found in the 2006 Louisiana Survey, conducted by LSU's Manship School of Mass Communications. Conducted over the course of 20 days in October, the survey interviewed more than 1,000 Louisiana adults. Compared to 2005, the preferences didn't change much. Residents express support for spending across a range of government services, as long as they're not taxed to achieve it. They are particularly supportive of spending on education, public health, roads and infrastructure. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming 81 percent believe the state should increase spending on recovery. The biggest leap was a 10-point spike in support of efforts to battle coastal restoration; 74 percent favor pouring more money into such efforts.
While that survey offers a few general guidelines, Louisiana needs something more to make the critical choices it now faces. The public should not be ignored. If voters aren't given a chance to say how the money should be spent between now and April, they'll surely get a chance to chime in next fall, when the elected decision-makers ' from the governor to the Legislature ' will be seeking re-election.
At that point, in contrast to an old adage, forgiveness may not be easier to get than permission.
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Google vs. Amazon in drone race; more deaths in Syria; Russia escalates Ukraine conflict and more national and international news for Friday, August 29, 2014.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.