Welcome to the Tuesday edition of Democratic Louisiana!
We've got an archive page up now in the event that you have missed any of our previous editions. Here's the link.
The Jindal budgetary house of cards is getting shakier and shakier. Looks like lawmakers will have to borrow from next year's flimsy shack of a budget in order to get out of the current year without inflicting more damage on healthcare and higher education. But, tensions appear to be mounting between the governor and legislators tiring of being viewed as rubber stamps for the Jindal agenda, such that it is.
Word is that the hole in the current year will take another week or 10 days to fix, then it's onto next year's mess. Things could get heated as we head into May.
Mike Stagg, Editor
Affordable Care Act contains 'game-changing' long-term care coverage
With Tea Party-ers, Republicans and uninformed angry seniors (and the occasional stray Democratic Attorney General) stil flailing away at the Affordable Care Act, McClatchy News' Kansas City Star reports that the law will bring huge, positive changes to care for the long-term disabled.
Accroding to the Star, the ACA will help the young mother who becomes paraplegic after a wreck; the soldier who returns home with a severe head injury; the middle-aged woman with early dementia.
They, like millions of Americans, need long-term health care. But few can afford it.
That’s where a little-discussed part of the massive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the national health care reform package, comes into the picture.
Buried in the law is Title VIII, the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act, or CLASS, one of the earliest programs scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2011.
CLASS is designed to give workers a consumer-financed national insurance pool to help pay for long-term care, either in their homes or in care centers, when they’re disabled enough by age, disease or injury to need it.
“It’s a game changer,” said Larry Minnix, president of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, who advocated for the concept for years.
Since the Jindal administration's plan to privatize state-operated group homes for the disabled has drawn so much heat, you would think that the administration would take a different tone towards the ACA, which will clearly be good for Louisiana.
But, that would require a degree of honesty from the administration that is just beyond their grasp right now.
Patience, though. After all, the Governor did announce last Friday that his 2010-11 budget is counting on a bailout from the Obama administration in order to achieve balance.
Jindal's war on public education
With Governor Bobby Jindal using all of his charismatic powers to try to hold together the current fiscal year budget, lest higher education and healthcare cuts cross the threshold of conscience, a big fight that also has long-term implications is playing out behind the clouds raised by the concerns about those issues.
In his spare time, the governor is waging a war on public education.
Trapped between his anti-tax rhetoric and declining state revenues, Jindal is trying to force what were, heretofore, state burdens onto the backs of local school systems. At the same time, his administration is backing efforts to rein in the power of school board members (through term limits). Add to that, the Governor is waging what some would call a war against teachers.
It is hard to find a segment of public education that is not feeling some form of heat from the administration.
Jindal first drew the ire of school districts when he tried to persuade the Board of Elementary & Secondary Education (BESE) to go along with a funding freeze for the Minimum Foundation Formula, the method through which state support flows to public education. BESE balked and submitted the full bill to the Legislature. The Legislature can either approve that figure or reject it. If they reject the new figure, funding levels revert to last year’s figure that was frozen from the previous year’s MFP figure.
So, Jindal is seeking to freeze spending on public education at the same time he is trying to shift new burdens on local school systems and teachers.
Two such burdens are the payment of a stipend to teachers who pass the National Teachers Exam certification. The state initiated a $5,000 per year stipend to NTE-certified teachers to incentivize them to improve their classroom preparation and skills. This year, Jindal wants local school systems to pick up the tab for this state program.
Jindal also wants local school systems to pick up the tab for transporting private school students to school, something the state has paid for until this year.
Teachers claim Jindal’s “Red Tape Reduction Act” (HB 1003 and HB 1368) uses clever phrasing to undermine essential teacher protections, according to the Associated Press.
Joyce Haynes of the Louisiana Association of Educators told the news service, “One thing I’ve learned as a teacher for over three decades is that one person’s ‘red tape’ is another person’s important protection for students and schools.”
Republican Representative Frank Hoffman of West Monroe has submitted a bill that would change the way teachers are evaluated, with at least 50 percent of the review based on student performance data based, in part, on standardized testing.
Teachers claim that too much is being laid on them. They argue that other factors, such as conditions in the home, can impact student performance, and that putting teachers’ careers on the line based on factors over which they have no control is not fair.
With the concept of standardized high-stakes testing now being abandoned by some of its fiercest defenders, Jindal is charging headlong into the session taking on the teachers with this tattered shibboleth.
With Jindal’s budget in tatters; with his allies in the House and in business questioning his approach to budgeting, with his confession that he is relying on a federal bailout to have a balanced budget for next year (a blood curdling thought for conservatives), Jindal’s fight against public education might well be a bridge too far this year, and for the rest of his term.
On the other hand, if he pursues it and fails with the other mounting troubles he confronts it could well prove his undoing.
Could things get so bad on the Fourth Floor that Jindal decides he’s had enough? Unlike his GOP rival Sarah Palin, he would not have to resign and move into the entertainment industry. There is a ready opportunity waiting for him right after the start of the new fiscal year: qualifying for the U.S. Senate seat now held by David Vitter. It’s Jindal’s ticket out of town and back onto the national stage, which he clearly craves.
Yes, Charlie, there is a Santa Claus!
Third District Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon's campaign has had a good couple of weeks, not because of anything he has done, but because of other developments in the 2010 race for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by David Vitter.
First, former state Senator James David Cain said he's considering a run for the seat. Cain, reportedly, is considering a run as an independent.
Then on Monday in Lafayette, software company head Mike Spears announced he's in the race, running as an independent but seeking to carry the mantel of the Tea Party into the November election.
The idea that conservatives voters will have somewhere to turn other than the scandal-tarred, character-deficient Republican Vitter has to please the Melancon camp.
Most importantly, a multi-candiate general election field would award the seat to the highest vote-getter, regardless of the percentage of the vote captured by the front-running candidate.
That could easily be Melancon if he can figure out some coherent explanation of his vote against the Affordable Care Act that will mend his frayed ties with core Democratic constituencies across the state.
A viable scenario for victory could provide the incentive for Melancon's team to get that focus and begin uniting the party's base.
So, the growing field is a positive for Melancon (although losing Stormy Daniels takes a little fun out of the equation), but there is still a ton of work to be done before victory can become a realistic possibility.
Icelandic volcano kicks Jindal's argument in the ash
Remember Governor Jindal's "Kenneth the page-like" response to President Obama's adress to a joint session of Congress last year? You should as is was the source of much hilarity among comedians for weeks, if not months afterwards.
But, aside from style points (and the 'so-big-he-must-be-joking' lie about Louisiana getting along just fine without all that nasty federal spending!), Jindal's speech has again come up for thrashing, this time by the volcano in Iceland that has disrupted air travel over much of Europe this week.
Our governor, it seems, called into question federal spending on something called "volcano monitoring." Here's a link to a reminder.
The Fourth Floor bubble remains hermetically sealed; there are no indications that Jindal is reconsidering his statement or figuring out who to blame for including it in the speech.
Efforts to force transparency on Jindal continue
A couple of northwest Louisiana Republican legislators are trying to peel back layers of opacity from the Jindal administration and getting fought every step of the way by the Jindal administration.
Last week, Senator Robert Adley took his case for transparency public with an appearance before the Baton Rouge Press club.
This week, Representative Wayne Waddell of Shreveport succeeded in getting the House Commerce Committee to pass his bill that would, if it became law, require the Department of Economic Development to submit reports on how it uses the funds in the state's incentives packages to lure firms to the state.
The Times-Picayune story is here.
Waddell said his bills are in response to recommendations for public disclosure made last year by the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. One of the concerns was that some projects several years ago had been given incentives without producing jobs.
Waddell withdrew other bils that the Department of Economic Development opposed.
The LCRM: 'Delayed' Impact Coming in 2011
With the Census heading towards completion and the legislative charged with handling reapportionment of the Legislature (House and Senate), the Public Service Commission, the state Supreme Court, the state's Congressional districts, the districts for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is preparing to move decisively next March when the count numbers become available.
There is another group waiting for those gears to formally kick in but it has no official standing. The members of the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority (LCRM) will be waiting to collect on the massive amounts of money they invested in Louisiana legislative races in the 2007 election cycle.
The LCRM was a group of well-heeled conservatives primarily consisting of Louisiana business people who combined put up about $2 million to influence legislative raced in Louisiana's 2007 election. Most of those races were House races.
The organization was pulled together by Senator David Vitter and his wife Wendy back in the pre-bimbo eruption, post-Katrina/Rita days of 2005. It was modeled after Tom DeLay's Texas and national enterprises. It was the laundering of money between the two organizations that brought DeLay under indictment and cost him his position as House Majority Leader.
The LCRM did not win their majority in 2007, but their focus (like DeLay's) was on the reapportionment that would follow the 2010 Census. That's coming.
The image on the top left in this column shows the major LCRM contributors. To read more about them based on reporting done at the time, click on this link.
Vitter is a shell of his former political self. But, the LCRM has the potential to remain a force to be reckoned with in Louisiana politics for years to come particularly if they are able to influence reapportionment. Who might work for their goals? This article might be helpful.
In Texas, DeLay's organization focused on federal reapportionment. There was the infamous mid-90s reappointment that had as its goal changing five Democratic-leaning districts in Texas's congressional delegation to Republican. It was all part of what DeLay hoped would become a permanent Republican majority in the House. Has not worked out that well, last I checked.
But, with Louisiana predicted by many to be on a path towards losing one seat in the U.S. House, a lot will be riding on how re-drawing the lines playes out there. There is a battle royale taking place on the BESE board with a 6-5 majority holding sway. Look for the LCRM to have an interest there.
But, most importantly, look for the LCRM operatives to be deeply involved in the re-drawing of the state House and Senate lines. It was not for nothing that the LCRM was formed almost before all of the water was out of New Orleans in 2005. Vitter and LCRM leader Joseph Cannizaro saw the storm as an opportunity to transform the city's demographics and profile.
Vitter's involvement in the "D.C. Madam" scandal knocked the LCRM effort off stride in the summer of 2007, but the organization and its allies managed to throw an unprecedented amount of dollars into 2007 legislative races. The bill will come due next spring when reapportionment will be the focus of a special session of the Legislature.
It will also be an election year.
That will give the LCRM an opportunity to measure if those dollars were well-spent or not. The chart below shows how they distributed some of their resources in 2007. Click on the image for a larger version.