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Bobby Jindal

Are Louisiana GOP lawmakers budget hawks or chicken hawks?

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By Robert Mann

After eight years of enabling then-Gov. Bobby Jindal as he mismanaged Louisiana’s budget process, isn’t it remarkable that some prominent Republicans in the Legislature have suddenly grown a backbone? Apparently, the gestation period for valor among certain Louisiana lawmakers is precisely eight years – and birth occurs only when a Democrat is governor.

To briefly recap, Jindal slashed taxes on upper-income taxpayers and gave away generous tax exemptions to various industries. He shifted the burden for much of that lost revenue onto college students by cutting their schools’ budgets and raising their tuition. Faced with enormous deficits, Jindal wouldn’t consider the slightest tax hike. Instead, he stuffed his budgets with embarrassing amounts of one-time money from every trust fund he could pilfer or every state asset he could peddle.

In 2008, Jindal inherited a budget surplus of almost a billion dollars. Eight years later, he left his successor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, a mid-year budget shortfall of about $750 million and a shortfall of almost $2 billion for the next fiscal year.

For much of Jindal’s two terms, GOP lawmakers rarely opposed Jindal – and when they did, their protests were often halfhearted and brief. Most legislators knew Jindal and his aides were selling them phony numbers, but they passed his budgets anyway. As he decimated funding for universities, they did little beyond approving tuition increases (by 66 percent since 2008).

Last year, Jindal’s budget mess threatened Louisiana higher education and public health care. So, legislators sensibly did what they could to raise revenue to keep Louisiana’s schools and hospitals open (for only half the fiscal year, it turns out).

Now, many of these lawmakers have not only found their voice and independent spirit; they have also been born again as unrelenting fiscal conservatives. Many of these intrepid souls insist the problem can be – must be – solved with budget cuts alone.

Although he offers no specifics about what should be should cut, Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington, said recently that he would reject “a budget that raises taxes on Louisiana families or businesses. Despite what some in Baton Rouge may think, we cannot tax our way out of this hole.” Hollis arrived in the Legislature in 2012, so he may have missed the news that almost $1 billion in income tax cuts(bipartisan legislation that his party supported in 2007 and 2008) is partly, if not largely, responsible for Louisiana’s revenue shortfall.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, is even more pugnacious – and arrogant – in her determination to resist tax increases. “We don’t need concessions,” she told a gathering in Baton Rouge recently. “We won.”

Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, who chairs the powerful House Appropriations Committee, also opposes any tax increases. Unlike Hollis and Hodges, however, Henry has an idea about where lawmakers should cut – higher education. “Though higher ed general fund dollars have been cut a little bit,” Henry said recently, “they’ve matched those with self-generated tuition increases and some fees.”

Henry is badly misinformed. He and his colleagues cut higher education substantially. For example, in 2009, the total of direct state appropriations and tuition to LSU was $797 million. In 2016, it is $691 million. At LSU alone, 363 teaching jobs (almost 8 percent of the faculty) were eliminated; another 1,561 staff members were laid off or not replaced. But Henry thinks LSU and other universities need deeper cuts?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

 

Let’s demand truth about Louisiana’s budget for a change

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Former Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols

By Robert Mann

Clearing off my cluttered desk the other day, I came across an op-ed by Kristy Nichols, the financial con artist who was former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration. Last April, as the Legislature debated revenue measures to prevent higher education’s collapse, Nichols wrote an opinion piece for NOLA.com that was breathtaking for its mendacity. Nine months later, I’m still gobsmacked by her ostensible estrangement from reality.

“Fearless. Brave. Determined,” Nichols wrote, quoting a Times-Picayune editorial that demanded the aforementioned characteristics from Jindal and lawmakers. “In fact,” Nichols wrote, “those qualities are on display every day as Louisiana’s leaders work to solve a shortfall created by declining oil prices and corporate welfare.”

Nichols’ op-ed overflowed with such claptrap. She claimed Jindal’s budget proposal “included more than $650 million in new revenue solutions that would fully protect college and university funding across the state.” Ignoring her boss’ eight years of reckless budgeting, Nichols wrote these words with no trace of irony: “[L]eadership requires the ability to see past the short-term and create sustainable solutions that make our state better.”

Nichols bragged that under Jindal, “we’ve seen unprecedented growth in our economy and today have more people working than ever before. Raising taxes is not the answer. Asking our citizens to subsidize business will not help our state.”

Nichols’ piece is worth re-reading if only to remind us that Jindal’s budgeting was so dishonest and irresponsible that his accounting practices should be made a crime, punishable by a few months in the slammer. Although she and Jindal claimed their budget would fund higher education and other important services until the fiscal year’s end (June 30), we now know their budget was an epic sham.

State government faces a mid-year budget shortfall of $750 million. Despite Jindal’s false assertion that the “new revenue” didn’t come from tax increases, almost everyone but the former governor’s family and staff acknowledged the truth. Lawmakers and the governor raised taxes – just not nearly enough to keep state government open through the fiscal year.

Nichols’ mendacious piece is more than just a maddening blast from the past. It’s a cautionary tale worth remembering as Gov. John Bel Edwards and his commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, deal with Jindal’s budget chaos.

The lesson? All of us – citizens, journalists and legislators – should view every statement from any governor and his or her Division of Administration with healthy skepticism.

Continue reading at this link.

Louisiana Politics: The Good, Bad and Ugly Awards, 2015

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By Robert Mann

The past year was the wildest and most unpredictable in my 30-plus years of observing Louisiana politics. Besides the entertainment value, 2015 was a humbling 12 months, especially for those of us who were certain that a Democrat could never be elected governor. (I’m happy I’m not a betting man.)

With the year almost done, it’s time for my second annual Good, Bad and Ugly in Louisiana Politics Awards. The competition was fierce. In almost every category, I could have chosen any of three or four nominees. I present here my choices for achievement in 10 categories. (Thanks to those who submitted nominations.)

Most CourageStephen Perry. In May, under the guise of “religious freedom,” Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an appalling and legally questionable executive order purporting to give state and local officials license to discriminate against same-sex couples. While most convention, tourism and chamber executives initially dived for cover, one valiant leader stood tall and set the pace for the few souls who eventually spoke up. Perry, CEO of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (also one of Jindal’s appointees to the LSU Board), promptly issued a strongly worded condemnation of the order.

Most Cowardice: Louisiana Legislators. During the 2015 legislative session, most legislators opposed an immediate expansion of Medicaid for Louisiana’s working poor under provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Ben Nevers pushed the bill in the Senate while state Rep. John Bel Edwards proposed the same legislation in the House. Now that Edwards is governor-elect and Nevers is his chief of staff, many of those cowardly legislators have suddenly seen the light. Most cannot wait to expand Medicaid.

Shameless Ambition: Bobby Jindal. For abandoning Louisiana for most of his second term while he indulged the folly that was his embarrassing and poorly managed presidential campaign, this category will hereafter be known as the “Bobby Jindal Shameless Ambition Award.”

Most Embarrassing Statement: Attorney General Buddy Caldwell. When I heard his concession speech on election night, my first thought was that Caldwell was sloshed. It appears he was not drunk, only belligerent. Prospective political candidates should study his bitter, rambling and incoherent speech as a master class in how to end a campaign in the most insolent manner possible. Among Caldwell’s incomprehensible statements was this jewel: “Out of the largest pile of manure, grows the prettiest flower.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Edmonson’s reappointment casts doubt on Edwards’ commitment to ethical governance

“I Will Not Lie, Cheat, or Steal or Tolerate Those Who Do.” — John Bel Edwards

By Robert Mann

Any hopes that the election of Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards would signal a change of direction at the ethically troubled Louisiana State Police headquarters were dashed on Wednesday when Edwards announced that he was re-appointing Col. Mike Edmonson to the job he held for eight years under Gov. Bobby Jindal.

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Col. Mike Edmonson

Edmonson earned widespread scorn and derision for his involvement in a shady amendment, passed in the final hours of the 2014 legislative session, that gave him and one other state trooper substantial increases in retirement income. It was never clear just how much Edmonson stood to gain by the sneaky, illegal arrangement, but it appears that the figure was, at least, $30,000 a year. Edmonson was eventually forced to turn down the money.

In bestowing upon Edmonson my “Villain of the Year” award last year, I noted that the ignominious honor was shared by him and “state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, who feigned ignorance about the origin of an amendment that provided Edmonson and one other state trooper a generous, unearned boost in retirement income. After refusing to admit authorship, Riser finally fessed up and admitted his role in the scheme. Edmonson insisted the idea originated with his staff.” Continue reading “Edmonson’s reappointment casts doubt on Edwards’ commitment to ethical governance”

Why so many silent college faculty? Here’s one reason

2402200306_46c12818a6_o (1)By Robert Mann

I sometimes wonder why more faculty members at LSU and elsewhere don’t speak up about how their schools have been defunded over the past eight years. It frustrates me that teachers and students only marched on the Capitol once — and after it was almost too late to save anything — to express their outrage over how Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators had picked apart their institutions, running off hundreds of great faculty members and putting a college education out of the reach of thousands of families.

But after someone pointed out this Facebook comment to me, I’m reminded why so many are so timid.

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This guy is insignificant and ignorant and I truly worry about him about as much and as long as I’ll worry about the gnat buzzing around me as I write this.

But it reminds me that there are too many out there like him who see any comparison of the state’s treatment of academics versus athletics as treasonous. And they are willing to attack you viciously. If you dare to suggest our priorities are totally screwed up — no matter where the money comes from — you’ll be told that you’re basically worthless for working in the teaching profession.

The critics will tell you to leave Louisiana if you don’t like it — as if dissent in the United States is somehow treachery.

If you have tenure, like me, perhaps you won’t worry so much about speaking out. But if even if you do have tenure and maybe one day think you’d like to be an associate dean or some kind of administrator, you might keep quiet because you know you’ll be singled out for attacks like this. At the very least, you know the higher ups won’t care for this kind of talk. And it probably won’t make you attractive if you should ever decide to move to another school. Continue reading “Why so many silent college faculty? Here’s one reason”

Bobby Jindal’s ghostly ‘accomplishments’

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Gov. Bobby Jindal in the House chamber on the 2015 legislative session’s final day. (Screenshot of WWL-TV coverage)

By Robert Mann

With his job approval rating at a dismal 20 percent, how will Gov. Bobby Jindal spend his final days in office? Why, he’ll waste state resources touring Louisiana to tell us that, despite whatever you’ve read in the papers, he was really a marvelous governor.

Never mind that the state’s fiscal affairs are a catastrophe and only getting worse. Forget that Jindal abandoned us for two years while he waged an inept campaign for president. Please don’t note that under his watch college tuition skyrocketed and the state’s universities were almost shuttered. Ignore the legions of working poor he denied health care. Overlook that we still have crumbling roads and bridges and endure some of the nation’s worst crime and deepest poverty.

Jindal went first to Shreveport Tuesday (Dec. 8) to brag about bringing new jobs to Louisiana. He claims he’s created 91,000 new jobs and secured $62 billion in capital investment. Jindal touts those two numbers because he has little else to hype.

Even if it’s true (Jindal offers no substantiation for that jobs figure), what he omits is the painful price of those “investments” and their legacy costs. The new business Jindal boasts about didn’t materialize because he turned Louisiana into a Utopia. They mostly came because of overgenerous tax incentives and other subsidies that he and legislators forked over as inducements.

In other words, during Jindal’s term, the state gave away hundreds of millions in tax credits and exemptions and direct appropriations to businesses. It’s one reason we’re in a fiscal ditch and why the Legislature last spring began the difficult process of suspending and repealing some of those costly tax giveaways. Even Jindal finally admitted that he enabled “corporate welfare.”

What’s left is a battered revenue system that has never produced a budget that was balanced without the creative accounting of the con artists who run Jindal’s Division of Administration. Jindal wants us to believe he transformed the state’s economy. He transformed it, alright – into a state with a budgetary black hole that annually threatens to obliterate higher education and health care.

It is true that Jindal induced some companies to locate or expand here. That clearly resulted in some new jobs – although given Jindal’s pattern of dissembling about budgets and other numbers, I doubt the real figure is anywhere near 91,000.

Regardless, shouldn’t a transformed, supercharged economy with tens of thousands of new jobs generate enough revenue to fund health care and higher education? If Jindal had transformed our economy into a juggernaut, would we still have the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the nation?

Eight years ago, we handed Jindal the keys to state government. Like a reckless teenager entrusted with the family car, Jindal is returning our vehicle in deplorable condition. It’s now a banged-up jalopy, missing a couple of wheels. Like the charlatan he’s always been, however, Jindal tells us the car doesn’t have a scratch. In fact, he says, it’s now a Ferrari. The message of Jindal’s tour is, essentially, “When it comes to my record as governor, who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Leonard Fournette, lobbyist?

 

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Memorandum

To: LSU President F. King Alexander

From: Robert Mann

Re: A Bold Strategy for Restoring LSU’s funding

It’s time to shake up LSU’s lobbying strategy. Persuading legislators with facts is hard work. Instead, it’s time to play politics like the contact sport it is. That means getting our football team into the game.

Our chronic financial woes have hobbled the school. With the election of Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards, however, there is hope. Unlike Gov. Bobby Jindal, Edwards understands the value of higher education. As a legislator, he was a friend to college students. Edwards has promised to reverse the cuts and reinvest in schools like LSU.

That said, persuading legislators to restore hundreds of millions to our colleges will be difficult, if not impossible. The new governor must also close a budget shortfall anticipated to be as much as $700 million in the coming fiscal year.

Your recent strategy of telling the hard truth to students, faculty and the public – that budget cuts might force LSU to close for an academic year – was bold and effective. It might work again, but that strategy is not sustainable. Eventually, you will become “Chicken Little.” If you continue to warn of the sky’s collapse and legislators narrowly avert disaster each time, your credibility will suffer; your apocalyptic warnings will wear thin.

You need a new, bold strategy. My idea may seem unconventional at first, but I hope to persuade you of its wisdom.

In previous years, you have cajoled legislators by giving them information about LSU’s value to the state. I don’t have to tell you that approach is challenging. Only 21 percent of Louisianians have graduated college. Many legislators and their constituents do not understand the importance of higher education to the state’s future.

Lobbying legislators with facts might eventually work. I believe, however, there is a more effective way to sway lawmakers. We have on our campus enormous, untapped power and influence. We should use it. What I mean is this: Instead of lobbying lawmakers, you must lobby our coaches and football players.

If star players could be persuaded to demand greater funding for our school, the public would listen and respond. Better yet, if your lobbyists could persuade the football team to threaten a strike until the governor and legislators fully fund the university, we could achieve transformational change.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Jindal and Vitter were adversaries to the bitter end

By Robert Mann

They can barely stand the sight of one another. They have never been political allies. Sometimes, it seemed Louisiana was too small for their outsized egos and ambitions.

How ironic, then, that the political careers of Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter should come to abrupt and humiliating conclusions in the same week, only four days apart.

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U.S. Sen. David Vitter

After spending his five-month official campaign stuck at 2 percent or less in the national polls, Jindal bowed to reality and left the race on Tuesday, Nov. 17. By 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 21, Vitter had not only lost the governor’s race to state Rep. John Bel Edwards, he also announced he would not seek re-election to the Senate.

The political aspirations of the two Republicans who had ruled Louisiana politics for much of the past decade were suddenly, just days apart, reduced to ashes.

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Gov. Bobby Jindal

While neither man was primarily responsible for the other’s political demise, they had done nothing to help each other in their respective political pursuits.

For anyone hoping to undermine Jindal in places like Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina, there were plenty of quotes available of Vitter denigrating Jindal’s leadership.

As for Jindal, the fiscal calamity that was his governorship added to the political headwind facing Vitter. While Republicans did well in the state’s Nov. 21 elections, the most important Republican on the ballot – Vitter – went down hard. And it was a defeat partly attributable to disgust with Jindal.

Even as they left the scene, the two men could not resist jabbing each other.

As Jindal ended his presidential campaign, it was immediately assumed that he had chosen the date to undermine any last-minute surge by Vitter. Right at the moment Vitter appeared to find an issue to lure Republicans back to his side – fear over Syrian refugees in Louisiana – Jindal pushed Vitter off the front pages. If Vitter had any momentum going – and it’s not clear that he did – Jindal’s announcement ended it.

He certainly wasn’t sorry to see Jindal drop out of the presidential race, but you can bet Vitter wished Jindal had waited until Sunday, Nov. 22, to announce his decision. Would holding off five more days have killed Jindal?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

 

The LSU Board must go

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By Robert Mann

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards will not have the power to fire members of the LSU Board of Supervisors when he takes office in January. The board’s 14 members (all but one extra student member are appointed by the governor) serve staggered, fixed terms.

But that doesn’t mean they should remain in their positions once Edwards becomes governor.

The current board has completely failed the state, the school and its students.

It never defended the school against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget cuts that almost devastated the institution. Its members slavishly did Jindal’s bidding at every turn, including approving a contract with dozens of blank pages when turning over the system’s charity hospital in Shreveport to a private foundation chaired by a then-LSU Board member. The results of that irresponsible decision proved politically disastrous, sparking an ugly fight between Jindal’s board and the foundation running the hospitial.

The LSU Board has failed the state so completely that Edwards should ask members to do the decent thing and resign en masse on Jan. 11.

Edwards cannot legally fire state Education Superintendent John White. He’s hired by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Eduction (BESE). That, however, has not stopped the governor-elect from demanding White’s dismissal or resignation.

He should demand the same of the LSU Board.

Here is what I wrote back in March. I stand by every word.

Next January, after taking his oath of office and calling a special session to clean up Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal mess, our next governor should immediately demand the resignation of every member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Appointed by Jindal, the current board not only is unrepresentative of the state (14 wealthy white men and one black woman); its members also abdicated their duty to protect the school. They were silent as mice as Jindal pillaged LSU’s budget.

Like state Education Superintendent John White and some courageous members of the state’s Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, they could have protested Jindal’s misguided policies or publicly challenged his destructive acts. They might have threatened to resign in unison. They did none of that — and for their unforgivable omissions, they should go. All of them.

President F. King Alexander has waged a valiant fight for LSU’s future, as have University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and some other college leaders. Alexander also has rightly prodded students to protest the threatened $600 million in higher education budget cuts. “Sometimes you don’t have to be so polite,” he told students earlier this month.

This past week at the Baton Rouge Press Club, Alexander repeated that admonition. So I tossed out this notion to him: It’s good for students to lobby legislators, many who are finally willing to raise taxes for higher education but whose legislation Jindal will probably veto. You have 15 bosses (the LSU board) who are close to Jindal. Why don’t they stop being so subservient and urge the governor to do more for higher education?

In response, Alexander shared an astonishing story that underscores my argument that this group must go. Alexander said that after he described the dire budgetary situation at the board’s January meeting, some alarmed members sought an appointment with Jindal. An LSU spokesperson told me that board members Ann Duplessis, James Moore, Raymond Lasseigne, Rolfe McCollister and Blake Chatelain joined Alexander for a meeting with Jindal on Feb. 4.

On its face, that’s a positive development. But step back for a moment and consider this disturbing scene: After five years of deep, damaging cuts, these board members apparently did not understand the serious threat to the university until Alexander made what one reporter described as an “impassioned speech — detailing the threat with campuses facing 40 percent reductions in state funding.”

Do they read the papers? Did they assume that Jindal also does not keep abreast of the news? I’m glad they privately urged Jindal to stop the cuts, but aren’t they five years too late? Speaking of little and late, good luck finding any LSU board member who has publicly condemned the looming demolition of Louisiana higher education.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

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