Welcome to the Budget Hole Edition!
Welcome to this special "Budget Hole" edition of Democratic Louisiana. There was no edition Thursday due to the fact that I was working on my taxes. I had hoped to get this out yesterday, but lingering insurance issues stemming from a recent wreck took up much of the day.
The extra time allows for a more in-depth look at the state's current budget problems which, because of Governor Jindal's various errors of judgment and fact, are turning into a train wreck stretching out over the budgets of three fiscal years the current year, the next year (the one the Legislature is trying to work on), and the 2011-12 election budget that will serve as the centerpiece of next year's state election campaigns.
Jindal has painted himself so deeply into a corner that he is now publicly admitting that he needs President Barack Obama to rescue him.
Mike Stagg, Editor
Justice Stevens Advanced the Rights of Women
President Barack Obama has his second U.S. Supreme Court vacancy to fill with Justice John Paul Stevens' announcement of his intention to retire at the end of the court's current term.
Justice Stevens was appointed to the Sumpreme Court by President Gerald Ford in1975.
Marcia D. Greenberger, of the National Women's Law Center, outlined the impact of Justice Stevens on the rights of women in this post from Huffington Post.
President Obama's nominee will have big shoes to fill!
President Signs Unemployment Extension Bill
President Barack Obama signed a bill on Thursday that extended umemployment benefits, restored the national flood insurance plan, restored higher Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, and subsidies for COBRA insurance coverage for the unemployed.
The legislation had been held up for weeks in the Senate by a hold place on the bill by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. During that time, the unemployment benefits for many long-term unemployed expired, as did the national flood insurance plan. A rollback of reimbursement rates for doctors providing care to Medicare patients also kicked in. However, that cut was blocked by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services with the expectation that the Republican obstruction would end and the legislation would ultimately win approval.
Affordable Care Act Big Win for Louisiana!
After a year of lies and distortions about what was in the bill, Louisiana residents will start seeing the benefits of the new law in a matter of months.
The Democratic Policy Committee, a branch of the Senate Democratic Caucuse, has compiled a series of reports on what the Affordable Care Act will mean for each state. You can access those reports by clicking here.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has compiled a list of benefits of the Affordable Care Act will mean for each congressional district. You can download the impact on your district by clicking here.
Jindal banks on Obama bailout
Governor Bobby Jindal’s political credibility was seriously injured on Friday in a violent collision involving Louisiana’s fiscal reality and Jindal’s partisan political posturing.
The collision took place in the Capitol where the Governor, a heretofore staunch critic of President Barack Obama’s stimulus spending, announced that he is counting on a new round of federal stimulus spending to help the state close its budget deficits this year and next.
Yes, Jindal is counting on a federal bailout to help get Louisiana out of the hole that his poorly thought out fiscal policies have produced.
According to various news accounts of Jindal’s Friday press conference, the Governor is ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ to fix a gaping hole in this year’s budget. He’s then counting on Barack to make Paul whole.
The biggest chunk of money Jindal wants to hurl into the end of the year $366 million abyss (up from $319 on Tuesday) is $195 million in reserve money from the Department of Health & Hospitals is holding to, among other things, pay the federal government on a settlement over an earlier misuse of Medicaid money. The state is currently negotiating with the federal government on that settlement and the payment will likely come due in the state’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
How does the Governor plan to come up with that money when the settlement comes due? Here’s how The Advocate reported it:
The governor said he is depending on bailout or stimulus legislation before Congress to replenish the state's cofferes and produce the money that will be needed to repay the federal government.
This is the latest and most blatant example of Jindal’s hypocrisy on federal stimulus spending.
First, he threatened not to take any of it, before taking almost all of it (save for money related to unemployment compensation). Then, after taking the money, Jindal went about the work of trying to hide the source of it. He helicoptered in to communities around the state carrying large images of checks from “Office of the Governor” for various local projects when, in fact, the money behind those checks were federal stimulus dollars he had publicly disparaged.
He also ordered the Department of Transportation and Development to not to identify road projects that had received stimulus money.
Now, with his second budget unraveling due to an economic slowdown and an ill-advised tax repeal (the repeal of the income tax portion of the Stelly Plan has turned into the hole that keeps on digging), Jindal has been forced into hoping President Obama succeeds. It’s an embarrassing position for a Republican with presidential aspirations.
With next year’s budget shortfall looming even larger than this year’s, Jindal will head into the 2011 election year surprisingly vulnerable. The 2010-11 fiscal year budget Jindal has proposed and now under consideration in the Legislature relies on tricks and short-term fixes that Jindal had long criticized before embracing them. If that budget holds together, Jindal will be lucky.
But, the projected deficit for the 2011-12 fiscal year is in the billions. Higher education cuts have already inflicted significant damage to the quality of those institutions across the state. Medicaid cuts have reduced access to care by forcing doctors to withdraw from the program. Local school systems have had a number of unfunded mandates shoved on them by the state.
Whatever fiscal slack there might have been in the public sector has long been taken up.
In order to balance the budget and avoid a massive rebellion among the constituents of those programs, Jindal will have to confront the one thing he has thus far been able to keep his word on: no tax increases.
Breaking that vow in an election year could prove politically fatal. But, the state’s fiscal woes are so bad and prior cuts have been so deep, that keeping that vow carries its own potentially devastating costs.
There is one way Jindal could avoid all of this unpleasantness: jump into the Republican primary against David Vitter for the U.S. Senate. Qualifying opens in early July. The new budget will be in place and Jindal can hit the campaign trail being able to claim some success.
It could be his ticket out of this mess.
Certainly, President Obama would welcome a Republican in the Senate who understands and appreciates the importance of stimulus spending to our country.
Black lawmakers push Caldwell to drop healthcare suit
Black Democratic lawmakers in the Louisiana Legislature will take their fight to get Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to drop his legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act to a legislative committee on Monday, the Times-Picayune reports.
House Judiciary Chairman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he will push for a vote next week on directing state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell to abandon his constitutional challenge of the newly enacted federal health care overhaul.
The resolution is unlikely to have any practical effect, given that the Louisiana Constitution empowers Caldwell to file lawsuits on the state's behalf. But it promises to provide a venue for legislators to hash out a controversial issue, which already has the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus and Caldwell, a Democrat, at odds.
State Insurance officials ready for Affordable Care Act
While Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is trying to overturn the law, The Advocate reports that Louisiana Department of Insurance officials say they are ready to meet the requirements of the new Affordable Care Act.
The first deadline in 90 days requires the state to have a high-risk pool for those who currently can’t get insurance. The state has had its high-risk pool in place for 15 years.
Several provisions are required to be in place within six months and include:
• No pre-exiting condition bans on children.
• Elimination of plans that impose lifetime limits on coverage.
• Removal of co-payments for preventive care.
• Policies that cover dependents 26 and under on their parents’ policies.
The strange case of the injury to Jindal fundraiser, date
Governor Bobby Jindal's fundraiser, Allee Bautsch and her boyfriend has taken a meandering route through the media, first appearing in conservative blogs as a polticaly motivated attack on the couple after they left a French Quarter restaurant last weekend.
Later a New Orleans Police Department report said it was a mugging with no political connection.
Saturday, the Times-Picayune provided yet another update, this one explaining why NOPD officers did not at first believe a crime had been committed.
Here's the link to the latest Times-Picayune story.
Vitter tries to explain vote against flood insurance
David Vitter stood before the Monroe Chamber of Commerce this week and tried to defend his vote against the bill that included renewal of the National Flood Insurance plan.
The Monroe News Star story is here.
Louisiana gets $81 million for roads
The state has received $81.5 million in federal aid to help finance repairs to highways and bridges damaged by hurricanes in recent years, transportation officials said Thursday.
Interim Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas said that $74.5 million of that money is targeted for repairs caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 while $7 million is set aside as reimbursements for money spent on recovery efforts in Hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.
Department spokeswoman Amber Hebert said that 62 projects covering 210.4 miles have been qualified for use of the federal money, but that doesn't necessarily mean all will be financed.
Bobby Jindal and 'the Miracle' at Georgetown
Governor Bobby Jindal witnessed a miracle in north Louisiana last week. It took place in Georgetown, a village in Grant Parish.
The miracle was the opening of the final portion of the four-laning of US 165 under the state’s Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) program.
For Jindal, it was an opportunity to take credit for someone else’s work. He did manage to say that the opening made good on a promise the state made back in the 1980s.
What Jindal could not admit was that the TIMED projects were all paid for with state taxes passed by the people of the state to upgrade roads, bridges and other infrastructure across the state. Taxes, in Jindal’s world, are evil. Jindal can only mutter the word if it is preceded by the word “NO.”
The opening of that final leg of US 165, like the rest of the TIMED program, is for Jindal, “The Immaculate Construction.”
TIMED: How to Build a State
The TIMED program came into being under Governor Buddy Roemer’s administration. It is a $5 billion road improvement project that includes four-laning 536 miles of federal highways in the state. TIMED projects are still underway in the state, including the widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge in Jefferson Parish, the construction of a bridge over the Mississippi River between New Roads and St. Francisville.
Most of the roads expanded to four lanes are federal highways. Looking at the construction cost signs along those roads when they were under construction was somewhat disorienting. These projects improving federal roads were being paid for entirely by Louisiana taxpayers.
Now approaching the third budget cycle of his term, Jindal has articulated no vision for the state. He has launched no initiatives to improve the quality of life in the state. He has, instead, presided over an intense effort to rein in and scale back state government, increasingly to the long-term detriment of the state.
When four of his predecessors convened the Intervention at the Mansion last year to talk Jindal out of budget cuts that would have wrecked higher education in the state, the main contrast among the people at the podium was not so much age, but the fact that each of the other governors had come to office with a vision of the state and launched initiatives based on that vision.
Dave Treen had tried (and failed) to pass his Coast Wetlands Environmental Levy as a way to generate revenue for the state and to reverse damage to Louisiana’s coastal wetlands. Roemer launched the TIMED project. Mike Foster sought to transform Louisiana’s economy via his Louisiana Vision 20/20 program. Kathleen Blanco came to office committed to improving public education in Louisiana by improving teacher pay (which she brought up to the Southern average) and enhancing the research capabilities of Louisiana’s public universities through projects like the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative (LONI).
Jindal articulated no such vision in his campaign and has not found anything to attract his fancy since becoming governor.
That is probably because Jindal has always viewed the governorship as a stepping-stone to higher office. His ambition has always been too bright to conceal.
He’s has hyped as his major accomplishment a badly flawed Ethics Reform package that left open loopholes that allow massive inflows of corporate cash into campaign coffers (like his!).
Where's the Vision, Bobby?
What will Jindal be able to claim as the mark he will have left on the state at the end of his tenure?
As matters now stand, that mark will consist of inflicting serious damage to higher education, dismantling the public hospital system in the state, and driving more doctors out of the Medicaid program at a time of growing human need.
So, Jindal may well have been awed by what he saw at Georgetown, but his ideologically constrained mind could not process it. It was not merely a promise kept.
It was living breathing proof of the kind of things that can be accomplished when leaders lead and people are confident enough in their own futures to agree to make the investments those leaders suggest.
That kind of vision eludes Jindal. That kind of leadership is not in him.
His stint as governor is all about giving him a platform to continue pursuing his national political ambitions.
His eyes are on his prize; not on ours.
We have been and will continue to pay a huge price for that. If he sticks by his “no taxes” guns, the cuts he will have to make in coming years will set Louisiana back for decades.
Twenty years from now, we won’t be dedicating any roads or finishing any projects that Jindal started. Instead, we’ll be trying to get back to where we were before he became governor.