Democratic Louisiana flag
Volume 1, Number 18
By Democrats For Democrats
June 11, 2010
Welcome back to Democratic Louisiana!

It's June and we're approaching two months of unabated oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. BP keeps saying the right things but has taken steps to cut its losses in the Gulf (does the phrase 'bad bank' ring a bell?).

The head of the US Chamber of Commerce shows he cares more about BP than he does about Louisiana (see below).

And, Louisiana public officials keep making asses of themselves by calling for an immediate resumption of deep water drilling when it is abundantly clear that no one in the industry knows how to cap a blowout that takes place in these depths. The job losses will be rough but the blame for these losses fall on the industry that never took safety and environmental considerations seriously. Those politicians never cared about those things before either. Apparently they still don't. As a friend of mine in Florida said, the full terms of our deal with the devil are now clear.

The clinical definition of insanity, it has been said, is to keep doing the same thing over and expecting a different result. Will somebody please tell me how resuming deep water drilling without an understanding of what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon nor a playbook for how to cap a blowout that takes place on the Gulf floor at those depths is anything but insane?

With the gusher still uncapped and the prospect of an August relief well iffy, it looks like Governor Jindal might meet the residency requirements to run for public office in Plaquemines Parish before the production side of this disaster ends — or his berms are completed, whichever comes first. Could the "Jindal for President" signs down there be for Plaquemines Parish President? Watch your back, Billy!

Here's the link to the archive page.

Thanks for reading!

Mike Stagg, Editor

Democratic Louisiana

U.S. Chamber of Commerce backs taxpayer bailout of BP on Gulf Gusher

The head of the US Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donahue, has indicated his group will work to keep the $75 million liability cap contained in the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990 in place. Donahue told The Christian Science Monitor that the liability cap should not be lifted for BP. You can see the video here.

According to ABC News, Donahue signaled that his group would figure out a way to get the government to share in the cost of cleaning up the Gulf Coast.

“It is generally not the practice of this country to change the laws after the game,” said Donohue. “. . . Everybody is going to contribute to this clean up. We are all going to have to do it. We are going to have to get the money from the government and from the companies and we will figure out a way to do that.”

At present, BP’s liability bill is capped at $75 million.

That cap could be lifted, however, if the company is found to have acted with gross negligence or to have broken rules that led to the spills.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a Senate panel earlier this month that the Obama administration will hold BP and other companies "fully accountable" for cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as well as for economic damages to businesses and residents.

BP has pledged to pay economic damages in excess of the $75-million liability cap.

Families of Workers Killed in Deepwater Horizon Explosion Meet with President Obama

President Barack Obama personally offered condolences Thursday to family members of the 11 workers who died in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, acknowledging their "unimaginable grief" and assuring them that he will stand with them.

Obama was joined at the closed White House meeting by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; energy and climate adviser Carol Browner; senior adviser Valerie Jarrett; and Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal official overseeing the response to the Gulf spill.

Keith Jones, a lawyer from Baton Rouge, La., whose son, Gordon Jones, was among those killed in the April 20 blast, characterized the meeting as "sedate without being somber." The younger Jones, who inspected mud that was pumped up from the deep-sea well, left behind a wife, Michelle, and sons, a 2-year-old and a month-old baby. Obama held the baby, Maxwell Gordon, who will never know his father.

In addition to meeting with Obama, family members came to Washington to lobby members of Congress to make sure laws such as the Death on the High Seas Act are updated to ensure that victims' families are fairly compensated.

Alan Levine was billed as the "Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary" when he appeared at the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. But as anyone who caught his presentation on the impact of healthcare reform on Louisiana immediately grasped, the cabinet secretary title is a cover for Levine's true role as Jindal's most ardent partisan hack.

From attacking healthcare reform to barring DHH employees from talking to legislators about policy to calling for investigations to try to stifle opposition to privatization, Alan Levine is the tip of the spear on the governor's effort to use healthcare policy to shrink state government and give more power (and money) to private contractors.

Levine is continuing the work that Jindal started as Mike Foster's DHH secretary just over a decade ago. The difference is that Levine actually knows something about healthcare policy (if Jindal knows anything about it, he learned it after he left DHH) and has not (at least not yet) displayed the kind of unbridled political ambition that Jindal personifies.

Still, Levine came to the job after finding his place in Florida politics in Jeb Bush's second administration. He came to Louisiana after taking over a struggling hospital system for Bush, privatized much of it (some of it using no-bid contracts) and rode that success to his job with Jindal.

Man On A Mission

Levine came to Louisiana in 2008 on a mission. That mission was to radically restructure the delivery of healthcare in Louisiana in a way that would help propel Jindal's Republican political ambitions.

First on the agenda was a complete makeover of Medicaid, the jointly funded healthcare program that provides care to women, children and the disabled. Levine had run a pilot program in Florida that set up a managed care approach to running Medicaid there. The idea was to limit spending by restricting access to care. The restriction would come through the management of care by third-party entities who had a similar role in the scheme to that of HMOs. There was a fixed pool of money. The managed care provider would negotiate a package deal with providers to provide care for Medicaid patients. The managed care provider would get paid out of the existing pool of funds.

It is classic conservative Republican approach to policy: make the dollars go further by cutting back on the amount of services delivered and make some company rich in the process.

Levine hit the ground running in Louisiana, but there were complications with the calendar. Jindal and Levine wanted to get a Medicaid waiver approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) while the Bush administration was still in office. This should not have been an issue seeing as Jindal had served in that administration and Levine had served in the administration of the President's brother who was the governor of Florida.

There were complications.

The first factor was that the move could not begin until the new state budget for Fiscal Year 2008-2009 was in place. Louisiana fiscal years begin on July 1. It took Levine a couple of months to organize an advisory committee whose purpose was ostensibly to provide input on the development of a Medicaid waiver request.

The panel was barely in place when the first of what has become a seemingly unending series of Medicaid budget shortfalls was discovered in late September of 2008. Shortly after that happened, Levine christened his Medicaid waiver "Louisiana Health First" and the generally genial discussions with the so-called advisory panel continued.

Things blew up when Jindal and Levine announced the plan fully-formed in November 2008 and committed to filing with with CMS in the waning days of the Bush administration. Members of the advisory committee went public with criticism of Levine for a lack of transparency in the process they were allegedly supposed to be participants in. It certainly appeared to the members of that group that they had been used by Levine to provide a patina of legitimacy to a plan that Levine had developed without their input or knowledge.

It was two days before Christmas, 2008, before Levine got his waiver request to CMS — the Legislature had to sign off on it and there were questions. By this time, all the DC Bushies were either too busy packing or had already left the nation's capital seeking new opportunities in what was no longer a Republican town.

Louisiana Health First came to naught, though it did poison Levine's credibility among Medicaid providers — a distrust that informs his relations with them today.

Privatization

The first big challenge for the Jindal administration on the privatization front was the question of what to do with Big Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which had been rendered useless by the post-Katrina flooding.

Governor Kathleen Blanco had somehow convinced a recalcitrant Louisiana Legislature to approve planning dollars for three new LSU hospitals in the wake of the storms of 2005 — Big Charity, Earl K. Long Medical Center in Baton Rouge, and Huey P. Long Medical Center in Pineville.

The initial impulse of the administration was to scrap all three hospitals, but the pressure to build a new hospital in New Orleans was too important to the post-Katrina recovery narrative for Jindal to ignore. Combined with a commitment from the Veterans Administration to build a new hospital in New Orleans, the project constitutes a nearly $2 billion investment in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Levine became the point man on what became very clearly a quid pro quo between the administration and LSU. The deal came down to this: LSU could get a hospital in New Orleans but it could not get a hospital in Baton Rouge, too. Sort of a "nice hospital you've got there, LSU. It would be a shame if anything happened to it." The new Pineville hospital was dead on arrival.

In the dance that ensued, LSU ended up negotiating a deal with Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center thereby enabling the closure of Earl K. Long. Some of the capacity served by that hospital will be replaced by a large outpatient clinic near Earl K. Long. Our Lady of the Lake agreed to take some of the Medicaid patient load (at a higher-than-average reimbursement rate) and to become home for LSU's medical training program in Baton Rouge. They'll also get a Tier 1 trauma center, courtesy of the state.

Click here to read the rest of "Jindal's Hack Attacks"

State Gives Away $7 Billion-plus in Tax Breaks, Exemptions

The state of Louisiana is cutting healthcare services to the poor and slashing spending on higher education at the same time it is giving away tax credits that each year total more than the state's projected budget shortfalls over the next two years.

Research done by the Lousiana Budget Project says that what it calls Louisiana's Hidden State Budget gives away more than $7 billion in tax breaks each year, a fair amount of which goes to industries that don't particularly need the money.

The LBP says the hidden state budget is "the total of more than 440 separate pieces of legislation, each of which exempts someone or something from some form of taxation. While the regular state budget is made up of money the state takes in and then sends back out, the hidden budget is money the state decides to forego in the first place. This form of spending is called 'tax expenditures,' and in Louisiana it has grown dramatically in recent years, even as regular state revenue has declined."

As an example, the LBP points to a 16 year-old tax break for oil and gas companies: "Louisiana provides a two-year moratorium on severance taxes to encourage the drilling of horizontal oil and natural gas wells. This tax break was enacted in 1994, when the oil and gas industry was economically weaker due to lower product prices and horizontal drilling was in its infancy.  Neither is true today."

The LBP also singles out the repeal of the income tax side of the Stelly Plan as another example of a hole that keeps on digging: "In 2007 and 2008, the state rolled back key portions of the 2002 Stelly Plan that resulted in the largest income tax cuts in the state’s history and left in effect the sales tax exemptions passed in the original bill. In 2007, the Legislature began a phased-in reinstatement of the state deduction for federal itemized deductions, which effectively lowered income taxes for those who itemize their deductions — primarily upper-income taxpayers. This became fully effective in 2009. In the 2008 legislative session, the income-tax-bracket changes were repealed, so the top 6-percent income tax rate once again applied only to income over $100,000 for joint filers, not $50,000 as had been the case under Stelly. The total projected cost of these tax cuts by fiscal year 2012 is $2.2 billion, according to estimates by the nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Office."

So, the state's budgetary woes result from a series of self-inflicted wounds resulting from unexamined tax exemptions and breaks that have the net effect of comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

Viewed in this way, the current hand-wringing over budget cuts is phony. This was the plan all along. The intent of Jindal and his Republican colleagues is to execute a reverse Robin Hood — taking from the poor and giving it to the rich — while denying funding for the services needed by the very people they are taking from.

Shame on the Democrats who support this immoral, unChristian approach to government!

Berms show LA higher-ed worthless to Jindal

Anyone who values the role higher education can play in the future development of Louisiana should brace themselves for coming draconian cuts in higher education. Governor Bobby Jindal just made it abundantly clear that he doesn't believe higher education has anything to offer when it comes to addressing the state's most pressing needs.

There's a $50 million cut in higher education spending in the budget bill approved by the House last week that could result in the closure of several college campuses. That comes on the heels of $240 million in higher education cuts in the past 18 months. The previous cuts have already put in jeopardy federal stimulus dollars that went to higher education based on a commitment of the state to maintain funding levels at 2006 levels. The state has asked for a waiver. It has not come yet.

The state faces still larger budget deficits in fiscal year 2012 that will force still deeper cuts due to the Jindal administration's refusal to consider tax increases as a means of dealing with part of the shortfall.

The notion that the Ivy League and Oxford educated governor (surely someone who knows the value of a good education!) would somehow be convinced to spare higher education from the knife was a myth that was not shattered in 2009 only because four former governors convinced him that the deep cuts he proposed last year would inflict deep damage on the state. The cuts were staved off during the session, but have continued coming since.

Now, there is fresh evidence that Jindal just does not believe tthat higher education institutions in Louisiana have very much of anything to offer him — even in their areas of expertise.

The proof comes in the sand berm idea he and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser succeeded in getting partial approval for from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer as a means of protecting Louisiana's coastal marshes from the oil still flowing into the Gulf from the BP Gulf Gusher.

Jindal and Nungesser pitched the plan (which was supposedly proposed by a Dutch engineering firm) incessantly for weeks, yet it was not until the plan was discussed at a June 1 meeting in New Orleans convened by National Incident Commander Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen that Jindal ever heard the views of any of Louisiana's coastal scientists regarding the dredging plan.

And, therein lies Louisiana higher education's crisis. Bobby doesn't think you've got anything for him.

In a time of the state's latest and perhaps greatest crisis, the governor of the state did not believe it was worth his while to reach out to the people who have been studying Louisiana's coast for years, who have developed an understanding of the hydrology of the marshes and the coast, who have developed the plans for rebuilding and restoring that coast. No, but Nungesser had his undivided attention.

The governor did not contact the LSU School of the Coast and Environment (the institution that some of BP's money will go to fund ongoing research of the impact of their gusher on Louisiana's coast).

Jindal felt no need to contact the US Geological Survey's National Wetlands Resource Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

He did not contact the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences at the University of New Orleans.

He did not contact the National Institute for Climatic Change Research's Coastal Center at Tulane University.

He did not contact the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Research Program at Southeastern Louisiana State University.

He did conduct a press briefing at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) at Cocodrie, but he did not take up the offer of researchers from LUMCON "to provide scientific and logistical assistance to local, state and federal agencies in response to the oil spill."

It is powerful testimony that Jindal does not value the work of the scientists at these institutions even as the state confronts the greatest ecological, environmental and economic threat to our coast. That coast and its health and well-being have been the very focus of the work at these institutions and these scientists. They've gotten funding from the state, the federal government and foundations. Jindal views the work as worthless.

If Jindal doesn't value the work of these scientists, the rest of higher education does not have a prayer in the governor's future budgets.

Last one out, take down the sheepskin.

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