Friday, 15 January 2016 20:04

With Jindal gone, Louisiana legislators prime for criticism

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jindal cavutoby Tom Aswell, Publisher of the Louisiana Voice

Gov. John Bel Edwards hasn’t even issued the call yet for a special legislative session to deal with the state’s budgetary woes and already state lawmakers appear to have the collective attention span of a gypsy moth.

A couple of years ago, a person who knows me well (my wife) commented that after Bobby Jindal leaves office, I would have nothing to write about. She’s dead-on with most of her evaluations but with this one, she failed to take into account we still have a legislature.

That’s the body that allowed Bobby Jindal to run roughshod over this state for eight long years with hardly a peep of protest. And that’s the body that must, in the final analysis, be held accountable for the damage inflicted by Bobby.

The legislature allowed Jindal to rape higher education. It looked the other way when he gave away the state hospitals. It was shamefully mute when he closed or privatized mental health hospitals and cut funding for the developmentally disadvantaged.

No questions were asked when it was revealed on this blog that Department of Public Safety Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux picked up an extra $46,000 in spare change by taking advantage of a retirement incentive offer (along with an additional $13,000 in unused leave) in April of 2010 only to return to work the next day—at a promotion from deputy secretary to undersecretary (Funny, when Sally Clausen did that at the University of Louisiana System, the mainstream media was apoplectic).

Lawmakers blindly went along with a last-minute amendment to a bill in the closing hours of the 2014 session that would have given State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson an additional $50,000 or so in retirement income in violation of an irrevocable decision he had voluntarily made years before that locked in his retirement. Only when LouisianaVoice stumbled upon the amendment and publicized it was action taken to rescind the amendment.

So now here we are in January of 2016, staring down the barrel of a $2 billion-plus budgetary shortfall for next fiscal year and about $700 million just to make it to the end of this fiscal year (June 30).

I’m about to make citizens angry at legislators’ lack of focus. I’m going to make women furious at lawmakers’ lack of sensitivity towards equal pay for them. I’m about to make those struggling to feed a family on minimum wage wonder (actually, they’ve never stopped wondering) if anyone in elective office even cares. And I’m about to send state employees who have gone for years without a pay raise into orbit.

And no matter which group you fall into, you can look to the legislature as the cause of your continued struggles.

And just so you don’t forget, I want to remind you that it is legislators like Senate President John Alario (R-Westwego) who use not their own money, but campaign contributions to dine at the finest New Orleans restaurants, purchase season tickets to LSU athletic events and to Saints and Pelicans pro football and basketball games, and to lease luxury vehicles like BMWs and Mercedes. Others use funds to pay fines for campaign violations (the ultimate irony) and to even pay personal federal income taxes as well as to purchase season tickets to athletic events.

The Baton Rouge Advocate on Wednesday (January 13) ran a front page story about Legislative Fiscal Officer John Carpenter’s attempt to convey to House members just how severe the state’s financial plight really is.

So the House members were riveted to Carpenter’s presentation, hanging onto every word, right?

Wrong. Elizabeth Crisp, writing for The Advocate, said the budget talk was “met with mild interest” from members “who mingled about and talked throughout the more than two hours of presentations.”

The chamber was called to order, she said, in an attempt to quiet the “loud chatter” and some members posed questions in an attempt to get fellow members’ attention, “though it had little effect,” she wrote.

What the hell? I mean, WHAT THE HELL?

Did we send a bunch of juvenile delinquent dumbasses to Baton Rouge to party and have a good time at taxpayer expense? Apparently so.

If these legislators had kids who got their hands on dad’s credit cards and maxed them out and the kids started chattering and laughing during the lecture on fiscal responsibility that followed, dad would—and should—jerk a half-hitch in them. We, in our parental roles, should remind these jerks, these spoiled brats in no uncertain terms why they were elected.

Remember State Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia)? He’s the one who slipped the infamous Edmonson Amendment in during the closing hours of the 2014 session. That was the amendment that would’ve kicked Edmonson’s retirement up by some $50,000.

Well, guess what? Though he was frothing at the mouth to get Edmonson his money in 2014, he went on record today (January 13, 2016) as opposing any increase in the minimum wage. Greg Hilburn, writing for the Monroe News-Star, quoted the incoming chairman of the Senate Labor Committee as justifying his opposition to an increase: “The Louisiana economy is struggling,” he sniffed.

Well, DUH!

Yes, Senator, the economy is struggling. When you have people trying to exist on $7.25 an hour, they’re going to struggle. They won’t be able to purchase appliances, cars, or homes, the very consumer products that drive the economy. Where did you get your economics degree, Senator? Oh, that’s right, I forgot. You run a couple of mortuaries. Do they teach economics in embalming school? I bet you don’t pass up an opportunity to increase prices on those shiny coffins, do you? How much do you charge for a funeral today as compared to say, ten years ago? Five years ago? One year? Betcha a dollar to a doughnut those rates haven’t remained stagnant.

There was no one in Louisiana more skilled than C.B. Forgotston at chronicling the antics of those he referred to as the leges. C.B. sadly is no longer with us, so it falls to those of us who can only aspire to his observational skills to keep Louisiana’s citizens abreast of the shenanigans of the 144 members of the Louisiana House and Senate.

With that said, here’s another reason the economy in Louisiana is struggling: Women in Louisiana, on average, make 66 cents for every dollar paid a man for the same job. Where is the equity in that, Senator?

Here’s a news flash for you. Politico Magazine has just issued its annual “States of our Union” report. Any guesses as to where Louisiana ranks?

If you said 50th, you would incorrect. We’re 51st. It seems the District of Columbia was also included in the rankings (coming in at 39th overall).

There’s a thing called the Gini coefficient, or Gini index, factored into the rankings. The Gini coefficient is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent income distribution, or more accurately, to reflect income disparity (the gap between the haves and the have-nots).

In that measure, the District of Columbia is the worst but we’re not far behind. We have the nation’s fourth-worst income inequality. But Neil Riser doesn’t want to increase the minimum wage.

Here are a few other rankings that contributed to the state’s overall anchor position:

Per capital income: 11th worst at $24,775;
Unemployment rate: 6th worst at 6.3 percent;
Percentage of population living below poverty level: 3rd worst at 19.8 percent;
Percentage of high school graduates: 3rd worst at 83.6 percent;
Life expectancy at birth: 4th worst at 75.7 years;
Infant deaths per 1,000 births: 5th worst at 7.49.
And just for good measure, another survey shows that Louisiana is the sixth most violent state in America with 514.7 violent crimes per 100,000 population. The state’s murder rate (10.3 per every 100,000 residents) is the highest in the nation and more than double the national rate (4.5 per 100,000 people).

Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Justice show a direct correlation between poverty and crime.

But let’s not raise the minimum wage, Senator.

Here’s the real irony with Riser: he represents one of the poorest senatorial districts in the state which means he is undermining the interests of his own constituents. Could it be he does not want to pay his employees more?

At least Edwards has signed an executive order expanding Medicaid which will provide health care to some 300,000 citizens who were denied it under the Jindal administration.

And finally, for those state employees who have gone without raises, I’m sure by now you are well aware that state troopers received back-to-back raises totaling some 30 percent over a six-month period last year.

But did you know that Edmonson is working quietly behind the scenes to implement an automatic annual pay increase for state troopers in addition to the usual merit raises (which, we need not remind you, have been denied other state employees)?

That’s right. He calls it a “longevity” increase and if he is successful, it will give state troopers, many of whom already make six-figure incomes, automatic raises each and every year, merit be damned. Longevity means by virtue of hanging onto one’s job, troopers get automatic raises.

While state employees may belong to a union (The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—AFSCME—is the main player), state civil service rules prohibit state employees from striking. But why not a state employeeassociation? That’s a pretty benign term. We have RSEA, the Retired State Employees Association of Louisiana. Members pay their own dues and a state employee association could be set up in the same manner. No one has the authority to ban an employee association—especially if there is no payroll deductions for dues. And for the more sensitive types, it removes the stigma of the word union from the discussion. (People forget, however, that it was unions’ efforts that ended child labor in oppressive sweat shops. Unions gave us the 40-hour work week. They fought for a minimum wage and for our retirement and medical benefits. And it was unions that led the fight for equal rights for women and minorities. We should never lose sight of those facts because unions, like ’em or not, were instrumental in creating America’s middle class that Republicans seem hell-bent on eliminating.)

An association, after all, would only be a large social club—sort of like that other organization…what’s it called? Oh, yeah, the Association of Louisiana Lobbyists. Or maybe the Fraternal Order of Police.

And such an association would never call for a widespread sickout of state employees in order to make a point (wink, wink) on an issue like say, longevity pay increases for state police while civil service employees continue without even cost of living increases for years on end.

Seriously, if leges (with apologies to C.B.) don’t get their collective heads out of… (and we’re not talking about sand here), they will end up creating just such an organization. People (teachers, state employees, women, minorities—all voters, mind you) are tired of being dumped on. They’re tired of patchwork budgets, tired of legislators turning deaf ears on their problems, tired of the elitist attitudes and campaign-funded perks of the power structure.

They want solutions and the leges would be wise to pay attention in class and to take their jobs seriously—or get out so someone else will.

Last modified on Friday, 15 January 2016 21:06
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