Bobby Jindal’s ‘economic miracle’ is a mirage

By Robert Mann

Did you know that Louisiana is an economic paradise? Are you aware that business executives stampede here with a fervor not unlike that of the 1849 California gold rush?

I know what you’re thinking. Like me, you’re skeptical. You’ve noticed that Louisiana has the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate, some of the deepest poverty, the worst health outcomes and an incarceration rate that is the envy of Uzbekistan. Despite overflowing prisons, violent crime plagues us. Our roads crumble, our coast vanishes and chaos reigns in public education.

The state’s economy is so decrepit it does not produce enough tax revenue to support higher education, health care and other vital services. As you read this, Louisiana lawmakers are trying to avert disaster and eliminate a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.

Well, you and I have been reading all the wrong publications! Earlier this month, “Chief Executive Magazine” declared Louisiana the seventh-best state for business. “During 2015, Louisiana showed strong improvement in attracting and retaining technology businesses, while also benefitting from a downstream position in oil and gas,” the publication declared. “CEOs are pleased with the Southeastern state’s industrial incentives, cheap energy and non-union workforce.”

That’s not all. Last year, “Site Selection” magazine dubbed Louisiana as the nation’s second-best business climate. Earlier, “Business Facilities” magazine ranked our business climate as the nation’s best.

Among other things, these rankings gauge Louisiana’s corporate tax rates, its proximity to transportation hubs, its non-union workforce, and, most of all, as “Chief Executive Magazine” noted, our “industrial incentives.” Some of those “incentives” are what Gov. Bobby Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”

Such profanity won’t please the people who run these publications. Jindal needn’t worry. He will have vanished from Baton Rouge long gone before their editors take notice and issue downgrades for our newfound aversion to “corporate welfare.”

Still, the question remains, how does a state that so many observers claim has a robust business climate fail to generate enough revenue to balance its budget? The answer, of course, is that our governor and his legislative enablers have handed big business the keys to the state treasury for seven years. They eagerly bestowed enormous tax exemptions and direct state appropriations on dozens of out-of-state corporations, all after recklessly slashing income taxes for the wealthy in 2008.

And what did these income tax cuts and governmental largesse for business get us, other than nice reviews in magazines that no one reads? According to a report by the congressional Joint Economic Committee, not much. “In March, private-sector employment in Louisiana fell by 2,000 jobs,” the committee staff reported. “Over the past year, Louisiana businesses have added 19,400 jobs. This compares with an increase of 35,200 jobs over the 12 months through March 2014.” The unemployment rate in Louisiana was 6.6 percent in March 2015, down 0.1 percentage point from February. The rate was 1.1 percentage points above the national rate of 5.5 percent.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Can a Democrat win this year’s Louisiana governor’s race? Not likely

Screenshot 2015-05-16 13.08.32

By Robert Mann

At the risk of kicking a dead donkey, I will expound upon my recent controversial column in the Times-Picayune | NOLA.com, in which I argued that a Democrat almost certainly cannot win this year’s Louisiana’s governor’s race. If Democrats want to defeat David Vitter — a questionable proposition considering the amount of self-delusion I’ve witnessed in the past five days — I believe they must get behind one of the other Republicans in the race, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne or PSC Commissioner Scott Angelle. That’s not likely to happen, but the numbers suggest it’s the best chance of stopping Vitter from being sworn in as Louisiana’s 56th governor next January.

On Wednesday, Rep. Edwards has published a response to my column in the form of a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune. I urge you to read it and note that he does not actually refute my argument with facts (if, by “facts,” we mean statistics or evidence). He simply repeats his boilerplate campaign message (and it’s a very good message) and suggests that my column was “offensive.”

“To say that . . . voters won’t care because of the letter behind my name, is offensive,” Edwards wrote. “Louisiana wants and deserves change, and that won’t come from candidates who want to duplicate the same broken policies that got us here.” Edwards is also thankful that “Louisiana’s future is not determined by the opinion of political pundits, it’s determined by the people. I firmly believe the people of Louisiana see more than just a letter behind the candidate’s name.”

I agree that pundits don’t decide election. If this pundit had the power to decide the governor’s race, I would anoint Edwards as the winner. Sadly, I don’t have that power and my column was not an attempt to do anything more than point out some obvious facts that Democratic voters might consider if they wish to keep Vitter out of the Governor’s Mansion.

First, let’s review the basis for my argument, which I briefly mentioned in the column. Since 2000, white Democratic Party voter registration has declined by 362,000 (and by about 225,000 in the past 10 years). Overall Democratic Party voter registration during that period (whites, blacks and other) declined by almost 300,000.

That means that white voters have abandoned the Louisiana Democratic Party in alarming numbers while the numbers of black voters increased by about 50,000.

Screenshot 2015-05-17 15.28.27 Overall, the Louisiana Democratic Party has gone from being a majority-white party to its current status as a majority-black party.

One reason Democrats like John Breaux, Bennett Johnston, Edwin Edwards, Mary Landrieu and Kathleen Blanco were once able to win statewide elections is that they consistently received 90 percent to 95 percent of the black vote, while earning 30 percent to 40 percent of the white vote.

For decades, that was a winning combination that made Louisiana a fairly solid Democratic Party state. Contrary to current popular opinion, Barack Obama’s election as president did not start the sudden decline of the Democratic Party in Louisiana, nor did Hurricane Katrina.

The voter registration numbers suggest that the exodus of white voters from the party began long before Obama and Katrina. From 2000 to 2004, the numbers of Democratic white voters in Louisiana dropped by almost 100,000. During that same period in which overall Democratic registration was dropping, Republican registration was increasing. From 2000 to 2015, the numbers of Republican voters in Louisiana rose by almost 200,000.

Screenshot 2015-05-16 13.13.08 As Republican ranks were growing and Democratic ranks were dropping, the ranks of “no party” — or independents — grew by 250,000 voters from 2000 to 2015. Continue reading

The Governor of Oz

By Robert Mann

What is it about Louisiana’s governor that strikes abject fear in the hearts of so many legislators? Like the Cowardly Lion of Oz, the lawmakers who follow the asphalt roads to Baton Rouge tremble at the sight of our great and powerful wizard, otherwise known as Bobby Jindal.

Our illustrious wizard rules from behind the curtain of the Capitol’s fourth floor. “Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful governor!” he roars when questioned. “Or I will veto the state budget.”

To be sure, he is a fearsome presence. He spews dreadful smoke and fire. “Nobody gets in to see the wizard,” his guards bark. “Not nobody.”

Doesn’t our ragtag legislative band of lions, scarecrows and tin men know that behind the curtain stands the slightest of men, who pulls levers, twists knobs and pushes buttons to manipulate the hideous facade that obscures the reality of his limited official powers?

If only one of them possessed the courage to expose him. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” he would shout, but it would be too late. “Why, you’re just a man,” they would say, shocked by his unimposing countenance. “A very bad man!”

“I’m a very good man,” our wizard might respond. “I’m just a very bad wizard.”

Indeed, our leaders don’t seem to recognize that the great and powerful Jindal is mortal. He has no mystical powers (save, perhaps, for exorcism). Lawmakers constitute an independent branch of government but act as if they need the governor’s permission to have a heart, use their brains or muster some courage.

Ask just about anyone around the state Capitol, and they’ll tell you Louisiana has one of the nation’s most powerful governors. He anoints the House speaker and the Senate president. He knights the committee chairs. He writes the budget. He wields a magic veto pen with indelible ink. Legislators scrape and bow in his presence, fearful that the slightest hint of disloyalty might get them cast them into the dungeon of the House Retirement Committee.

Perhaps before granting the governor’s every wish, legislators should read the state’s Constitution. That document does not empower governors to appoint legislative leaders and committee chairs. The legislators have always simply allowed it.

Although the governor writes the first draft, legislators must vote on the state’s budget and other legislation that funds the government. How many of them know they have the right – perhaps even the duty – to defy the governor and enact a budget that displeases him?

Oh, but there’s the dreaded veto, they’ll say. That’s just more smoke and mirrors. They can override vetoes with a two-thirds vote. In fact, the Constitution mandates an automatic veto session unless a majority of both houses votes not to convene. In other words, legislators are required to do nothing other than show up and vote again for the same bills they approved in the regular session.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Les Miles is silent on higher ed cuts, but LSU AD Joe Alleva is speaking out

By Robert Mann

Surely, LSU head football coach Les Miles is worried that if his school does not survive the current legislative session, his football team goes down with it. If Miles does know this and is alarmed, you’d never know it. Reportedly close to Gov. Bobby Jindal, the coach has not yet spoken publicly about the danger the proposed budget cuts pose to LSU, in general, and his fall football program, in particular.

Student organizers of Thursday’s march on the state Capitol tried, but failed, to get Miles to join them in their march. Perhaps Jindal has advised Miles to stay home or has assured him there’s nothing to worry about. Whatever the case — misplaced loyalty to Jindal or complacency– that apathy has not affected LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva.

After a Tiger Athletic Foundation event on Tuesday in Lafayette, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported primarily on remarks about the LSU football team made by new defensive line coach Ed Ogeron. Buried at the bottom of the story, however, was this interesting passage:

But it wasn’t just athletic funding. Alleva took a moment at the end of his speaking time to align himself with LSU president F. King Alexander on the university’s need for funding to stay relevant academically.

The biggest opponent LSU faces is funding for higher education, Alleva said.

Alleva said the state’s current shortfalls in higher education funding hurts athletics just as it does the general student population. Players, just like the rest of the student body, could look elsewhere if the course work available to them isn’t up to par.

Alleva encouraged those in attendance to contact their legislators with their disapproval.

“Our concern is not Alabama or Texas A&M, it’s funding,” Alleva said. “Anyone concerned about higher education should feel the same way.”

After I tweeted something about Alleva’s remarks on Wednesday night, Tiger Rag editor Cody Worsham informed me of additional, stronger remarks by Alleva on Wednesday.

Continue reading

Shots fired: What’s the meaning and the fallout over LSU’s decision to threaten exigency?

By Robert Mann

The word about LSU’s financial woes, particularly the threat of academic bankruptcy, is now national news. From the Boston Globe to Bloomberg News to the Houston Chronicle to Al Jazeera America, the news is out that LSU is on the ropes.

IMG_1162

IMG_1157

IMG_1163

IMG_1165

First, LSU President F. King Alexander issued a statement on Wednesday, in which he said, “Based on the current status of the budget debate, we have decided to begin contingency planning for exigency as many of our campuses may be impacted, as well as other campuses across the state.”

Screenshot 2015-04-22 16.56.49

Exigency is the academic equivalent of bankruptcy or insolvency. It would allow the university to fire or furlough tenured faculty and instructors. Even partial exigency will ruin a university’s reputation.

Already, it’s sure bet that recruiters from the University of Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU’s other regional competitors are reminding their academic prospects that LSU might not be open for business in the fall.

And you can bet Tiger Stadium that Nick Saban and his recruiters (as well as coaches from other schools that compete against LSU for top athletic talent) are telling high school prospects, “Do you really want to take a chance on a school that’s telling the world it might not be open for classes in the fall?”

Continue reading

For Jindal, if the choice is tax hikes vs closing LSU, it’s “Bye, bye LSU”

By Robert Mann

I was talking with a friend the other day about Louisiana’s massive budget shortfall and the threat it poses to higher education, in general, and LSU, in particular. I observed that, eventually, Jindal’s loyalty to his no-tax-increase pledge to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform would trump everything. In other words, if Jindal is forced to choose between raising taxes and letting LSU go under, it will be, “Bye, bye, LSU.”

My friend, who has one of smartest political minds I know, disagreed. Ultimately, he said, Jindal’s cronies on the LSU Board of Supervisors would trek to the Governor’s Mansion for a serious heart-to-heart with the governor. They would tell him the truth. They would tell him the game over was.

“Nice play, governor,” they will tell him. “You held onto the no-tax line for as long as humanly possible, but this is reality. You either support some tax increases, or our state’s flagship institution will cease to exist.”

Faced with that choice, my friend said that Jindal would finally relent. The potential press backlash in places like Iowa and New Hampshire would be so devastating that Jindal would have no choice but to break his pledge, raise a few taxes and save higher education.

Perhaps that is how the scenario will play out. But, as someone fairly close to Jindal told me today — and I’m paraphrasing here — “We worked hard, lined up all the right legislators behind a plan to raise the tax revenue to save higher education and Jindal has already undermined much of the deal by threatening to veto the state budget if it has tax increases.”  Continue reading

Bobby Jindal is now against corporate welfare?

By Robert Mann

Are Louisiana’s corporations heroic job creators or greedy welfare addicts? It depends on when you ask Gov. Bobby Jindal. Two years ago, Jindal wanted to abolish the state’s corporate income tax. “Louisiana’s current tax climate results in competitive disadvantages for businesses and individuals by penalizing hard work and increased earnings,” Jindal said in March 2013. 

The plan – which also included eliminating the personal income tax – was so reckless that the state’s top corporate lobby, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, opposed it. Jindal surrendered one day into the 2013 session.

Two years later, our governor has had an epiphany. He once said we were crushing businesses with oppressive taxes. This past week, however, Jindal told lawmakers, “The truth is, today, we have a system of corporate welfare in this state.”

Legislators did not applaud that line. Perhaps they were dumbfounded that Jindal suddenly attacked the very businesses he has pampered for seven years. “Our businesses are a great asset,” Jindal explained. “But we cannot stand idly by while companies pay zero in state taxes and then continue getting free taxpayer money from the government on top of it.” 

Jindal was likely referring to the recent news from the Department of Revenue that some prominent corporations are not paying state income taxes. According to the Associated Press, an audit by the department found that of the 87 largest corporations that filed tax returns in 2012, only one-fourth paid any income taxes to the state. While the department cannot identify those companies because of privacy laws, Jindal suggested some of those corporations are pocketing underserved tax credits and subsidies.

“We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut to help protect higher education and health care,” Jindal said Monday (April 13).

Even by Jindal’s low standards, his sudden opposition to “corporate welfare” qualifies as stunning hypocrisy. Legislators surely recalled that only two years before, Jindal wanted to eliminate all corporate taxes. And they undoubtedly remembered that last year Jindal vetoed a bill they passed, which required detailed accounting for many of the “incentive expenditures” that Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”

Explaining his veto last year, Jindal claimed the legislation could have “the unintended consequence of an aggregate tax increase on businesses and/or individuals” and “could create uncertainty about the state’s commitment to job creation and economic development.” Further clarifying that veto, Jindal wrote these astonishing words: “Americans for Tax Reform agree and has asked for a veto.” Translation: Grover Norquist made me do it.

But today, according to Jindal, “it would be wrong for us to impose cuts to higher education in order to protect this corporate welfare.”

I know Jindal hasn’t spent much time in Louisiana lately but, surely, he did not just learn that state government bestows billions in unwise subsidies and tax credits upon businesses. In fact, I am certain Jindal has long known about this corporate welfare because he has held press conferences with dozens of corporate welfare kings. Those would be the executives of companies Jindal and legislators have showered with hundreds of millions in tax dollars to lure them to Louisiana.

Every month, it seems, our governor brags that he has lured some new business to the state. In Monday’s speech, he boasted about “90,000 more jobs from companies that have expanded in our state” since he became governor.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.