Another bill that would have created a new tax district in New Orleans was also defeated. This legislation would have increased taxes on tourists and local residents in parts of New Orleans. The end result would have been a pool of money distributed by an unelected board with tremendous power. This bill was purportedly introduced to help our tourism industry, but it really allowed tourism industry insiders to distribute big contracts to friends all in the name of marketing. New Orleans doesn’t need another government sponsored board to market itself, since the city is already the most unique destination in the country. The best way for New Orleans to attract more tourists is to decrease the crime rate.
Fortunately, the office of Inspector General was saved, along with its tiny budget of $1.7 million. This office is crucial in investigating waste, fraud and abuse in a state that was named by Governing Magazine as the most corrupt in the nation. It is a real shame that the office was even on the chopping block, considering how essential it is in a state with the corrupt legacy of Louisiana.
The Governor’s signature education package has been hailed as reform legislation, but it will be challenged in court. There are also serious concerns whether adequate funds are available to implement the program and once enacted whether there is any kind of accountability in place. 5,000 new private school vouchers will be available to low income parents. The package also included K-12 teacher tenure reform, such as linking it to student performance.
The education reform package is a step forward for Louisiana, but our state needs massive reform in plenty of other areas. The economy is in woeful shape and our business climate is anemic. We keep losing congressional seats due to a stagnant population. In addition, we keep losing corporate headquarters to other states. Just last week, Superior Energy announced they will be relocating their headquarters to Houston, TX, which means one of the few publicly traded companies will be leaving Louisiana.
To combat our poor image of a corrupt state with a bad business climate, real reform is essential. Unfortunately, some bills in this session that would have moved the state in a new direction were defeated. Legislation that would have merged LSU-Shreveport and Louisiana Tech University failed to pass, even though it was supported by lawmakers in that region of the state, as well as university officials. Louisiana has too many universities, too many boards of higher education, and too much duplication of programs. We have more colleges and universities than Florida, a state with a population five times larger than Louisiana.
Most distressingly, the Governor pushed through a $25.6 billion budget for next year that included $270 million in “one time money” and swiped $200 million from an emergency account, the Rainy Day Fund, to balance the current budget. These funds are also “one time” money that should never be used to pay for budget deficits, but that is exactly what happened this year, with the approval of Governor Jindal.
Even though the bonds financing the Crescent City Connection will be completely paid off by the end of the year, west bank motorists might not get a break. Tolls may continue on the bridge for another 20 years due to legislation passed in this session. Voters in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines will vote on November 6 and decide whether to continue the controversial tolls. One very troubling aspect of this election is that people who do not use the bridge regularly will be voting to place tolls or taxes on people who use it every day. It is also disturbing that every other bridge that crosses the Mississippi River is maintained without tolls, but the motorists on the west bank of New Orleans are burdened with this tax. At least there is a chance that the voters will see the wisdom of removing the tolls and relieving motorists who have been unfairly treated.
A commonsense proposal to mandate drug testing for a portion of welfare recipients failed for the fifth straight year. While this measure is always intertwined with racial politics, it is really about fiscal accountability.
In this session, lobbyists who represent local municipalities and the traffic camera industry prevailed once again. Measures to remove the cameras or at least require a vote of the people before the cameras can be installed in any community failed. One minor improvement was made for Orleans Parish residents who will now have additional ways to fight these unfair tickets by appealing to Traffic Court.
Overall, this session featured more partisanship than normal and a revolt among House conservatives, who disagreed with the Governor’s push for using special funds to balance the budget.
In reality, our state should only spend what it receives in revenues each year. It should not balance the budget by using accounting tricks or funds that have been set aside for emergencies. It is not an emergency that our state government cannot keep its spending under control. Louisiana continues to spend more per capita than its Southern neighbors as we have a larger state government with higher salaries.
State Treasurer John Kennedy’s ideas to eliminate state contracts and reduce the payroll by attrition were rejected. He was called names and ridiculed by the Jindal administration. Kennedy’s plan did not include the use of one time money, but it did require tough cuts and real budget reform.
Hopefully, Louisiana will one day be ready for real change. Unfortunately, it will take some time; we may have to wait until Governor Jindal gets his next job, the one he is auditioning for in the Romney administration.