Louisiana’s cavalcade of cowardice on Medicaid expansion


By Robert Mann

Just how much do Louisiana Republicans despise President Barack Obama? The results of Wednesday’s appalling vote against providing health insurance for Louisiana’s working poor in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee suggests it’s quite a bit.

After a hearing on Sen. Ben Nevers’ bill to put the issue of Medicaid expansion to voters this fall in the form of a constitutional amendment, the committee voted along party lines to reject the bill. The vote was 5-2 against helping the working poor.

Accepting federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act is not only an act of justice and compassion; it’s a good deal for Louisiana. The federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of providing health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working poor in Louisiana. Thereafter, Washington will cover 90 percent of the cost.

Jindal and Republicans in the Legislature say that’s too much. They say it will potentially bankrupt the state (this from a party that will give us a billion-dollar budget shortfall next year). Never mind that, in 2008, Jindal proposed his own Medicaid expansion program to Washington, in which he volunteered Louisiana to pay 30 percent of the costs.

That, of course, was before the Affordable Care Act passed and Jindal decided to run for president. Now, nothing can get in the way of his presidential aspirations, not even protecting the health of his state’s working poor.

I understand why Jindal won’t take the money. He cares more about being elected president than helping working people in need. That’s clear.

What I don’t get is how state legislators don’t understand that helping Louisiana’s working poor is good politics and good policy.

Rep. Vance McAllister used the issue to win a congressional seat last year in one of the most conservative regions of the state. McAllister had the guts to tell his constituents the truth about the benefits of accepting the Medicaid dollars. They elected him to Congress.  Continue reading

White flags of cowardice waving at Louisiana Capitol


By Robert Mann

It was a week for waving white flags. By the look of things at the Louisiana Capitol, you’d have thought Gov. Bobby Jindal and state legislators were debating in semaphore. If so, the words they spelled with their bright pennants were “surrender” and “cowardice.”

First on deck were members of the Senate Finance Committee. When the state’s top higher education adviser, Tom Layzell, showed up to testify Monday, he lamented Louisiana’s pitifully low college graduation rate. When he finished, the white flags began to flutter. Committee members — unwilling to support any serious reinvestment in the state’s colleges and universities — conceded their fecklessness.

“We’ve broken every piggy bank and trust [fund] that’s out there,” Sen. Fred Mills, R-New Iberia, complained, seeming to dismiss Layzell as a starry-eyed dreamer. Mills said he doubted there would be “any new funding coming to higher ed.” Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, was equally weak-willed. “We made a conscious decision, or maybe a less than conscious decision, (to) find ourselves where we are today,” he said.

Had LaFleur literally waved two white flags while making that statement he could not have appeared more fainthearted. Never mind that he and other legislators voted to slash income taxes on wealthy taxpayers in 2008. They not only made our tax system more regressive, they also blew an annual $300 million hole in the budget. Forfeiting that revenue led directly to the inadequate higher education funding they now accept as Louisiana’s fate. It would take some courage to reverse that vote, little of which was on display Monday.

Next, it was Jindal’s turn to capitulate by consummating his gradual U-turn on Common Core. Those are education standards developed by the nation’s governors and adopted by 44 states. Until recently, Jindal vigorously supported the standards. “Adopting the Common Core State Standards … will raise expectations for every child,” Jindal said in a video released on April 2 by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

Of course, that was before the future presidential candidate weighed his concern for the education of Louisiana’s children against his need to court tea party activists in Iowa. Guess who won? When he finally reversed himself, Jindal lacked even the courage to wave his white flag in person. He surrendered in a written statement.

“We share the concerns of these [anti-Common Core] legislators and also of parents across Louisiana,” Jindal said. His capitulation to the tea party was complete, so much so he vowed to unilaterally remove Louisiana from a consortium of states developing tests for Common Core.

Not to be out-surrendered, by Tuesday the Senate was back in action, meekly submitting to its overlords in the oil and gas industry. In a 23-15 vote, the majority yielded to Big Oil by passing legislation that would retroactively stop Louisiana’s flood protection authorities from hiring outside lawyers without the governor’s permission.

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Louisiana’s traumatic bonds with Big Oil


By Robert Mann

What is it about the oil and gas industry that engenders such steadfast devotion from our political leaders? In case you hadn’t noticed, Louisiana’s government has long functioned as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Oil.

Maybe it’s the millions in campaign cash the industry bestows on governors, members of Congress and state legislators. While I suspect money is largely the culprit, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

The other day I stumbled across a curious psychological malady that might help explain why Louisiana’s leaders are so faithful to Big Oil. It’s known as “traumatic bonding,” described by one expert as the “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”

In such situations, one victim has written, there exists an “imbalance of power, with one person more in control of key aspects of the relationship.” The “victim engages in denial of the abuse for emotional self-protection.”

That’s actually a decent characterization of Louisiana’s stormy relationship with Big Oil or, as I’ll call it here, “Mr. Big.”

For decades, we were infatuated with Mr. Big. He charmed us with sweet talk and showered us with gifts. He was good for our economy. He offered us well-paying jobs and plentiful revenue from his severance taxes.

In time, however, we discovered Mr. Big’s dark side. He’s occasionally domineering, insecure and sensitive to slights. He exhibits a troubling unwillingness to accept responsibility for his actions, which has included spoiling our coast.

Continue reading at NOLA.com

For David Vitter, this week is back to the future


By Robert Mann

For Sen. David Vitter, this one was of those “back to the future” weeks.  Senator, welcome to your 2015 Louisiana’s governor’s campaign.

The leaked videotape of U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister smooching with a female staff member in his Monroe office is creating uncomfortable moments for Louisiana’s junior U.S. senator, who says he will run for governor in 2015. Today, however, he was running from reporters and refusing comment about the McAllister scandal.

That’s something he can’t do when he runs for governor next year.

Vitter, as you will recall, was embroiled in a sordid sex scandal in the summer of 2007, finally admitting to a “serious sin,” which everyone knew meant he had paid prostitutes for sex.

As Louisiana Republican Party leaders from Gov. Bobby Jindal to the Louisiana Republican Party called for McAllister’s resignation, a logical question for many journalists and other observers was: “If simply kissing a female staffer is a moral outrage that should cost someone his seat in Congress, why is it a lesser offense for a U.S. senator to pay prostitutes for sex?”

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Booming economy? Jindal orders yet another spending freeze

By Robert Mann

If Louisiana’s economy is booming as Gov. Bobby Jindal keeps telling us, then why is he always mandating mid-year budget cuts and spending freezes?

Friday brought us yet another mid-year budget freeze, by virtue of an executive order Jindal issued late in the afternoon.

A booming economy of the kind Jindal boasts produces ample revenues for government. If businesses are booming, as Jindal assures us, then companies are hiring, payrolls are growing and those new employees are paying more in taxes. They’re buying more consumer goods, meaning increased sales tax revenues and added employment for the companies selling those goods.

In short, a real booming economy produces adequate government revenue. At the very least, a healthy state economy doesn’t force government leaders into constant mid-year budget cuts, garage sales of state assets and late-Friday budget freeze announcements (you’d almost think Jindal didn’t want us to notice that he’d been forced to freeze spending again).

Here’s the order Jindal issued. Many in the press received it, but as of early Friday evening it had not been posted on the governor’s website.

EXECUTIVE BRANCH – EXPENDITURE FREEZE

EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. BJ 2014 – 4

WHEREAS, pursuant to the provisions of Article IV, Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974, as amended, and Act 14 of the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature, the Governor may issue executive orders which limit the expenditure of funds by the various agencies in the executive branch of State government (hereafter “expenditure freeze”); and

WHEREAS, underlying assumptions and needs in the development of the current year’s state budget would be altered by a decline in the State’s revenues and the interests of the citizens of our State are best served by implementing fiscal management practices to ensure that appropriations will not exceed actual revenues; and

WHEREAS, in preparation of the budget challenges in the ensuing year, Executive Order BJ 2014-1 Limited Hiring Freeze issued on January 15, 2014, is updated periodically, is related to the Expenditure Category of Personal Services, therefore Personal Services Expenditures will not be addressed in this Executive

Order; and

WHEREAS, to ensure that the State of Louisiana will not suffer a budget deficit due to fiscal year 2013-2014 appropriations exceeding actual revenues and that the budget challenges in the ensuing fiscal year are met, prudent money management practices dictate that the best interests of the citizens of the State of Louisiana will be served by implementing an expenditure freeze throughout the executive branch of state government;

NOW THEREFORE, I, BOBBY JINDAL, Governor of the State of Louisiana, by virtue of the authority vested by the Constitution and laws of the State of Louisiana, do hereby order and direct as follows:

SECTION 1: All departments, agencies, and/or budget units of the executive branch of the State of Louisiana as described in and/or funded by appropriations through Acts 14 and 44 of the 2013 Regular Session of the Louisiana Legislature (hereafter

“Acts”), shall freeze expenditures as provided in this Executive Order.

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Bobby Jindal’s health care jalopy

By Robert Mann

In late 2007, before Gov. Bobby Jindal took office, I addressed a group of health insurance executives in New Orleans eager to learn about what Louisiana’s new governor had in store for them. Jindal is a health care expert and a policy wonk, I advised them. You may not like what he’ll propose for your industry, I warned, but brace yourselves for lots of innovation and policy experimentation.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The famously wonkish Jindal proved a conventional and unimaginative politician who, after more than six years as governor, has no major innovative idea to his name.

When it comes to public policy, Jindal sells used cars. From education to health care to economic development, the governor has sold us a collection of dilapidated conservative ideas and practices. That’s why, near the end of two terms, he has launched his nascent presidential campaign by outsourcing policy production to an Alexandria, Va., think tank, “America Next.”

After months of labor, Jindal and his advisers finally rolled out their first big policy initiative: “The Prescription for Conservative Consumer-Focused Health Care Reform.” Jindal went to Washington on Wednesday to present what some mistakenly characterized as a fresh policy prescription, founded on the proposition that the Affordable Care Act must be repealed.

“Gov. Jindal’s ‘new’ plan is an obvious attempt to drape himself with the aura of gravitas that his governorship has failed to produce.”

Perhaps, like me, Washington’s policy mavens once regarded Jindal as an innovator and policy expert. If they study his plan, however, they’ll realize that his new vehicle is just a high-mileage contraption cobbled together with used parts that Republicans have been selling for years.

Seemingly blind to the fact that most Americans oppose repealing Obamacare, Jindal staged a junkyard sale of second-hand proposals, offering retreads like health savings accounts and “lawsuit reform.” Jindal salvaged another vintage GOP idea — turning the federal government’s most successful and popular program, Medicare, into a privatized voucher program.

He did unveil a redesign of Medicaid, a $100 billion block grant alternative to the current program. But while we wait for Congress and President Obama to realize the brilliance of that idea, wouldn’t it be sensible and humane to accept the federal Medicaid expansion dollars now on the table? Why must Louisiana’s working poor receive their health care only from a vehicle of Jindal’s design?

Jindal’s used-car special, however, wasn’t a total flop. He offered several decent suggestions, including guaranteeing better access for individuals who change jobs and cross-state insurance purchasing. (Even these commendable ideas are previously owned.)

But don’t mistake Jindal’s concern about your health care for a desire to improve or enhance the Affordable Care Act. As with most Republican leaders, it’s repeal the current law or nothing. Nothing, of course, is what he’ll get.

If Jindal truly cared about “his” ideas, he would work to build support for them as improvements to a health insurance law that’s here to stay. He won’t for one simple reason: Jindal’s plan is really about caring for the health of his presidential ambitions.

If Jindal were the policy expert he pretends to be — if he actually cared about devising an innovative alternative to the Affordable Care Act — he would have proposed something serious and bold when Congress debated the bill in 2009.

Read more at NOLA.com

Whistleblower says Louisiana DuPont plant covered up carcinogenic leak

By Tom Aswell

A 22-year employee of the E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont) plant in Burnside in Ascension Parish has filed a confidential lawsuit in Middle District Federal Court in Baton Rouge that claims the plant has consistently been experiencing toxic gas leaks on almost a daily basis for more than two years without reporting the leaks as required by a 151-year-old federal law.

Jeffrey M. Simoneaux, an Ascension Parish native who served for 14 years as chairman of the plant’s Safety, Health and Environmental Committee, also claims he was harassed, intimidated and denied promotions after he said he complied with DuPont’s own internal procedures for reporting a leak of sulfur trioxide (SO3) gas, a known carcinogen which is regulated under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 and was reprimanded for doing so.

DuPont, headquartered in Wilmington, Del., was ranked 72nd on the Fortune 500 in 2013 and reported 2012 profits of nearly $2.8 billion, down more than 19 percent from 2011, according to a report by CNN Money.

Despite profits from its worldwide operations which employ 60,000 people, DuPont has for years avoided paying any federal income taxes.

The company has contributed more than $21,000 to various state politicians since 2003, including $4,500 to Gov. Bobby Jindal. Its plants in Burnside and in St. John the Baptist Parish have been granted more than $21 million in various tax credits and exemptions by the state.

Those included, in order, the project, the year, parish, total investment, tax exemption and number of new jobs created:

  • Plant expansion, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $93 million, $1.4 million five-year tax credit, 11 new jobs;
  • Plant expansion, 2008, St. John the Baptist, $58.8 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $10.9 million, five new jobs;
  • Retrofit project, 2010, Ascension, $72.2 million, five-year property tax credit of $541,000, three new jobs;
  • Miscellaneous capital addition, 2010, St. John the Baptist, $1.3 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $232,000, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, St. John the Baptist, $6.7 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $1.2 million, no new jobs;
  • Plant addition, 2009, Ascension, $45 million, 10-year property tax exemption of $6.9 million, no new jobs.

The case has been referred to Federal District Judge Shelly Dick and Magistrate Judge Stephen Riedlinger, according to court documents.

Simoneaux terminated his employment with DuPont on Aug. 13, 2012, he said.

The most recent filing is a Feb. 21, 2014 Response to State of Uncontested Facts submitted by Simoneaux who is represented by Baton Rouge attorneys Jane Barney and J. Arthur Smith, III.

In that filing, Simoneaux claims that DuPont failed to inform the Environmental Protection Agency of the numerous SO3 leaks by the plant despite its proximity and potential threat to an elementary school, Sorrento Primary School, a residential subdivision and the Mississippi River.

He filed his suit under the 151-year-old False Claims Act (FCA), passed by Congress in 1863 because of concerns that suppliers of goods to the Union Army during the Civil War were defrauding the Army.

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