[Editor’s Note: The following letter to the editor was submitted by Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite.]
Gov. Jindal can claim victory in the just completed legislative session but — thank goodness — the facts prove otherwise.
As the session started, Democrats in the House of Representatives pronounced the governor’s retirement package dead on arrival. For the most part, we were right.
Of the six parts of his package, five failed. Drastically delaying the retirement age, dead. Increasing employees’ contributions, dead. Reducing the benefits of future retirees, dead. All but eliminating cost-of-living increases for retirees, dead. Trying to merge two retirement systems at no savings to the taxpayer, dead. They were all unwise, unfair and — for the most part — unconstitutional.
More importantly, most of those bills did nothing to reduce the state’s retirement debt by even a penny.
The governor’s scheme to create a “cash balance” benefit for new employees — a plan that would deny most employees dignity and security in retirement — did squeak though, but only because of a tortured twisting of House rules.
That’s how the governor won every “victory” he claims. He and his allies resorted to breaking rules, ignoring the constitution and other excesses like springing 47-page amendments onto 3-page bills without giving committee members time to even read the massive changes.
They hold up that conduct as fair and transparent. I would call it unworthy of our people.
The governor was a bit more successful with his education package but only after more flouting of the rules and rushing through massive and complicated legislation. On the last day of the session, the House approved the $3.4 billion plan that funds local school systems with 51 votes when — by a rule that the speaker of the House ignored — that legislation needed 53 votes to pass.
As many predicted, serious flaws in the governor’s education package are already being exposed. The education department has already approved for taxpayer-funded vouchers schools that don’t have the teachers, classrooms, books or equipment to teach hundreds of new students. More worrisome, many of these schools do not have any history of delivering educational excellence.
This is not about right or left; it’s about right and wrong. Just look at how Democrats and Republicans joined to oppose the flawed MFP legislation.
I and many of my colleagues work in Baton Rouge on behalf of Louisiana workers, Louisiana families and Louisiana students. This session, we saw the needs of our people lose out to the governor’s personal political ambitions.
Rep. John Bel Edwards Chairman, Louisiana House Democratic Caucus Amite, LA
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
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.
Episcopal School of Acadiana’s Dr. Joshua Caffery, chair of the school’s English Department, is headed to Washington, D.C., and the Library of Congress as the latest winner of the Alan Lomax Fellowship in Folklife Studies.