The mysterious case of the missing budget cuts

By Robert Mann

To paraphrase Groucho Marx: They may talk like charlatans and look like charlatans. But don’t let that fool you. They really are charlatans.

How long have Republican leaders in the Louisiana Legislature assured us the state’s budget could be balanced — mostly or entirely — by spenSnake-oilding cuts? Their obsession with cuts is one reason so many of them voted to bring the recent fiscal special session crashing down. They have attacked Gov. John Bel Edwards, suggesting state government is plagued by massive amounts of waste and abuse.

They’ve been preaching this specious sermon for years.

“If you can control government spending, then we don’t have to have these conversations over and over and over again,” Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, said last month.

“Government needs to be as efficient and as lean as possible,” Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, said. “Additional revenue is a last resort. There are other ways to balance the budget other than imposing taxes on citizens who live and work in this state.”

Screenshot 2018-03-09 07.30.51“My constituents are asking me, from questionnaires I send out, to reduce waste and government spending,” Rep. Phillip DeVillier, R-Eunice, said.

These comments appear to reflect how most Republicans in the state House think. There’s only one problem — and it exposes them as hypocrites, at best, or con artists, at worst. These lawmakers have never identified the cuts they say the governor should make to close the $700 million budget shortfall that will remain when $1 billion in temporary taxes expire on June 30.

It’s not that they lack the manpower to find those cuts, if they exist. Hundreds of legislative staff members could scour the budget for them. They also have the reports of various management experts the state has paid millions over the years to find additional cuts and efficiencies (most of which were adopted long ago).

And, yet, despite bleating about how Edwards should trim the budget before proposing new revenue to support health care, higher education and other critical programs, Republicans have never produced the cuts.

The most-charitable view is they haven’t bothered to look. Less-charitable is that the cuts aren’t there, and they know it. The least-charitable view — and the one that seems obvious — is that this is all about ensuring Edwards’ defeat next year.

That is not only my view, but that of several prominent House Republicans, including Barry Ivey of Baton Rouge, who confessedrecently: “We don’t want a Democrat (governor) to get re-elected, and we don’t want to give him a political win by doing tax reform. That was something that was told to me (by party leaders). We placed politics ahead of our constituents. We should all be ashamed.”

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Bobby Jindal, Education, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Why are Louisiana universities so powerless in Baton Rouge?

By Robert Mann

How did it come to this sad state in Louisiana higher education? How could venerable institutions with hundreds of thousands of graduates and more than 200,000 students prove so powerless at the state Capitol? Why have these schools — with their amazing students, brilliant faculty and gifted administrators — been unable to persuade lawmakers to increase their budgets or, at least, guarantee them long-term budget stability?

Long ago, when I worked at the Capitol, I would hear rumblings about trimming LSU’s funding. That talk never went anywhere because of the assumption that if the governor or the Legislature messed with LSU, its students, faculty and alumni would descend upon them with pitchforks waving and torches blazing.

State leaders, fearful of the roar of the LSU tiger, instead gave the school and other state universities ample funding. Then, in 2008, Bobby Jindal became governor and we learned that the Fighting Tigers were really paper tigers.

As Jindal and lawmakers attacked state universities and slashed their funding, nothing much happened in response. The alumni associations and university foundations did not organize their members to descend on the Capitol to fight the cuts. There were some scattered protests by students and faculty, but the cuts happened anyway.

Then-LSU Chancellor Mike Martin spoke up about the way Jindal was hurting his university. Jindal’s staff dressed him down and later ran him out of town. Others lost their jobs for speaking out. Soon, the message was clear: Keep quiet and go along or we’ll fire you or cut your budget even more.

With that, Jindal’s path was largely unimpeded. He and Republican lawmakers intimidated, attacked and undermined higher education leaders during this eight-year reign of terror. They did so because, as they began, few people stood up to their bullying in a forceful and effective way.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Bobby Jindal, Education, Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, LSU | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Louisiana’s fiscal woes distract us and obscure what really ails us

louisiana-140784_960_720

By Robert Mann

No reasonable, informed person would question the need for the current special session of the Louisiana Legislature. The consequences of losing vital state services — the result of $1 billion in expiring, temporary taxes — would be devastating.

This is a crisis. It’s as if our house is burning and the priority is to extinguish the flames and save the structure. An extended discussion about whether to renovate the house or build a new one must wait until the fire is out.

The problem is, in Louisiana, the budget flames never die.

The perennial impasse over the state’s budget — we have had 18 regular or special legislative sessions since 2008 — has distracted Louisiana’s leaders from other serious issues. It’s crippling us. And it’s robbed us of the ability to imagine and create a better state for our people.

Anyone with eyes to see knows Louisiana is suffering. We have so many deep, systemic problems that it seems our leaders don’t know where to start. The worse news is that, because of the never-ending fiscal crisis, they cannot summon the resources or energy to tackle the problems that plague our people.

Indulge me another analogy: Louisiana is like a patient with a chronic respiratory disease. Every week, he sees a doctor, who struggles to restore or improve his breathing. He prescribes new drugs. He puts him in new therapies. In his conversations with this suffering patient, the doctor spends 90 percent of his time talking about his labored breathing.

Louisiana is like that patient. We are so focused on the immediate — and justified — need to keep revenue flowing into the state’s coffers that we never have a serious, sustained discussion about the chronic problems that sap our state of its ability to thrive and survive.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Louisiana budget, Louisiana Politics, Politics, poverty | Tagged , , , ,

Why stop at Trump’s food-in-a-box plan? Here are some other horrible ideas the White House might consider

By Robert Mann

Politico reported the other day:

The Trump administration is proposing to save billions in the coming years by giving low-income families a box of government-picked, nonperishable foods every month instead of food stamps.

White House OMB Director Mick Mulvaney on Monday hailed the idea as one that kept up with the modern era, calling it a “Blue Apron-type program” — a nod to the high-end meal kit delivery company that had one of the worst stock debuts in 2017 and has struggled to hold onto customers. Mulvaney said the administration’s plan would not only save the government money, but also provide people with more nutritious food than they have now … 

That package would be made up of “100 percent U.S. grown and produced food” and would include items like shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal.

At first blush, this sounds cruel, ridiculous and impractical. How would homeless people get their boxes? What if you have severe allergies to foods, like wheat or peanuts?

After serious reflection, however, I must admit the Trump administration has a point. I’m all in with Washington bureaucrats deciding what food folks in New Orleans and Baton Rouge should eat. But why stop at food boxes?

How else might we eliminate waste, fraud and abuse and restrict people’s choices by shipping them goods and services in cardboard boxes?

I have many ideas. Here are a few:

Why should the states spend billions each year paying teachers, principals, school nurses and custodians? And why should schools expend millions to build and maintain costly buildings and operate busses?

Let’s replace our unwieldy education system with “Classroom in a Crate.” Under this plan, the postman would deliver your “teacher” in a box that contains reading material for your child to study after he has watched the day’s lessons on a DVD.

(Before you scoff, remember this kind of thing has been tried. In 2012, Louisiana Education Superintendent John White and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal awarded $600,000 in private-school vouchers to a school in Ruston that taught lessons via DVD. Imagine the money White and Jindal could have saved by mailing those DVDs to the students.)

Under “Classroom in a Crate,” if a student qualifies for free lunches, his box will also come with a tin of sardines from the Second World War, surplus cheese from the Eisenhower administration, a package of crackers from Operation Desert Storm and a can of condensed milk from the Nixon years.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Donald Trump, Politics, poverty, race | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Why do so many fearful Christians put more faith in guns than God?

By Robert Mann

Why do many fearful Christians put more faith in guns than God? We all have fears. We fear failure, debilitating illness or death. We’re afraid of violence. We fear the unknown, the other and, sometimes, the truth.

“Life is made of fear,” says Mary, the protagonist in the novel “Other People,” by Martin Amis. “Some people eat fear soup three times a day. Some people eat fear soup all the meals there are. I eat it sometimes. When they bring me fear soup to eat, I try not to eat it, I try to send it back. But sometimes I’m too afraid to and have to eat it anyway.”

Fear is also an emotion people of faith should reject.

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) He also said: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34)

The Christian and Hebrew scriptures are replete with admonitions about rejecting fear.

“There is no fear in love.” (1 John 4:18) “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1) “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:17)

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you.” (Isaiah 41:10) “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.” (Psalm 118:6)

So why, in this part of the word at least, are Christians the most fearful, well-armed people many of us know? Why do so many Jesus followers reject one of his fundamental admonitions about being afraid?

Put another way: Why do so many Christians put more faith in their guns than their God?

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Faith, Politics, Popular Culture, poverty, race, religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Was anyone really surprised when Amazon snubbed Louisiana for its new HQ2?

By Robert Mann

Few, if any, at the state Capitol should have been shocked that no Louisiana city was among the 20 finalists for the massive, new second Amazon.com headquarters, also known as HQ2. The $6.56 billion in tax incentives state Economic Development officials offered could not persuade the company to bring its 50,000 employees here.

Imagine a mountain of money that tall being insufficient to overcome a state’s colossal economic and social problems. I would love to read the assessment on Louisiana that Amazon’s site selection consultant prepared for the company’s brass. I suspect it might look something like this:

MEMO

To: Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO

From: The Site Selection Team

Reg: Louisiana’s Bid for HQ2

Louisiana has offered an impressive incentive package, hoping to lure us to the Bayou State. While it enjoys many natural resources (including the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River) and a vibrant and diverse culture, Louisiana is among the least desirable locations in the nation.

In Politico’s recent annual assessment of the states, Louisiana finished last for the second year in a row, based on its cumulative poor rankings in the following categories: per capita income, unemployment, poverty, home ownership, high school graduates, life expectancy at birth and infant mortality. For all the reasons discussed below, we cannot recommend locating this facility in Louisiana.

Economy: There is almost nothing about Louisiana’s economy that is attractive to a company like Amazon. Louisiana has one of the nation’s worst business environments, and its economic growth is among the most anemic. It has some of the lowest economic opportunity and ranks poorly in gender equality. Its worker environment is last among the states. Only one state has a higher poverty rate.

In WalletHub’s recent ranking of the most innovative states, only two — Mississippi and West Virginia — were considered worse. It’s among the least hospitable places for working moms and working dads and is also one of the worst states for millennials. It is the least financially literate state.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Louisiana budget, Louisiana higher education, Louisiana Politics, Politics, poverty | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Why stop at work requirements for food stamps and health care? Let’s go all the way.

By Robert Mann

I’m fed up with lazy, poor families who mooch off industrious citizens and waste our hard-earned tax dollars. I agree with Sen. John Kennedy: They aren’t entitled to health care through the state’s Medicaid system.

Unemployment and laziness shouldn’t be rewarded. Let them get sick or injured and, if they survive, they’ll better understand the value of work. After the heart disease passes, they will apply the lessons they’ve learned as they rush out to find a job.

If the worst happens, at least their orphaned children will have learned a valuable lesson: The only way society should treat you as a human being worthy of life is if you are employed.

And I agree with Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge: If the poor won’t work, they don’t deserve food assistance. Going hungry for a few weeks will not only encourage mom and dad to get up and work; the malnutrition and hunger pains should also teach the kids a lesson they won’t forget.

It’s just like Jesus said when he fed the hungry multitude: “Those with a job get a fish and a loaf.”

These humane, sensible policies have inspired me to propose some additional reforms:

Why should taxpayers educate children of parents who don’t work? Let’s begin each school year by turning away all children whose parents are unemployed. Forcing mom and dad to homeschool them will teach the kids the value of a job.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Posted in Faith, health care, Louisiana budget, Louisiana Politics, Politics, poverty, race | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments