Louisiana faces a $211 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year (which ends June 30). One strategy being floated by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, involves doing nothing. He’s not joking. Budget leaders are seriously considering carrying a deficit and addressing it next fiscal year — AND taking out 20-year loans for a list of unspecified road projects. Bear in mind that state revenue forecasters have predicted a $303 million revenue shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Fannin’s do-nothing strategy apparently has some support. Viable solutions are being ignored or panned. Last week, the Appropriations Committee passed a pair of bills to cut consulting contracts by 10 percent and reduce government positions by 15,000 over the next three years. The Advocate, the Louisiana Press Association’s “Newspaper of the Year,” dedicated 131 words to House Bills 327 and 328. The Times-Picayune, a Pulitzer Prize winner, didn’t cover them at all.
State Treasurer John Kennedy made a rare appearance before the committee to support the bills, which are authored by Rep. Dee Richard, a Thibodaux independent. Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater opposed the measures, arguing that they would stand in the way of Jindal’s future privatization plans, whatever those might be.
Next year’s budget already abolishes 6,371 state governmental positions, Rainwater said, adding that the goal of 15,000 reductions is based on outdated turnover rates. “The number of full-time employees in state government is already at their lowest levels in 20 years,” he said.
The treasurer countered with numbers from the Legislative Auditor’s Office. He also slammed several contracts, including one for $94,000 to teach students “social skills” through organized play and another for $43,000 that focuses on seatbelt use in the Hispanic communities of Rapides Parish.
Rainwater said you have to dig deeper to plumb the real value of contracts. He said there’s already a system in place for prioritizing and that the 10 percent goal wouldn’t be realized without impacting larger contracts for services like health care. As for smaller ones, Rainwater contends that if every contract under $50,000 were eliminated, it would reduce related costs by only 1 percent.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, practically growled at Rainwater during the hearing. He complained that other areas of government spending have had to be reduced in recent years because of budget shortfalls. “Would it not be reasonable that some of these current contracts ought to get the same kind of attention?” Schroder asked. Good question.
The Senate stopped similar bills last year, and it may do the same again. Even if Richard’s bills both pass, Jindal will surely veto them.
No doubt the governor, ever with one eye on his national ambitions, would prefer not to have to do that. After all, it would not look good on his resume if he were to veto bills intended to rein in spending.
No, he’d much prefer the House or Senate do his dirty work for him. All that would cost him is 20 years of debt that the rest of us will have to pay.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.