Sunday, March 31, 2013

State Rep. Lopinto Files Bill To Allow JP Hospitals Ownership Change Without Public Vote

Metairie State Representative Joe Lopinto (R) has filed a bill sought by the Jefferson Parish Council and Sheriff Newell Normand to allow for the sale or lease of the parish's two public hospitals without a public vote. Normand also is Chairman of the East Jefferson General Hospital Board.

Current state law prohibits the sale or lease of EJGH or West Jeff Medical Center without a public vote.

HB 383 is co-sponsored by Robert Billiot (D-Westwego), Nick Lorusso (R-New Orleans/Metairie), Chris Leopold (R-Belle Chasse). On the Senate side, the legislation is sponsored by Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), David Heitmeier (D-Algiers), and long-time Normand ally, Danny Martiny (R-Kenner).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jindal Contributor's Former Company Subject Of FBI Health Care Fraud Probe

It has not been good recently for Governor Bobby Jindal when it comes to health care.

 A Grand Jury is investigating a $185 Million medicaid claim processing contract that was entered into with the former employer of DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein. Despite the Governor expressing confidence in Greenstein's leadership, the Secretary resigned Friday evening.

Now, there is news of more trouble for another health care company with ties to Governor Jindal.

The former CEO of Universal Health Care, A.K. Desai, and his company are the subject of an FBI probe into alleged health care fraud. The offices of the Florida-based company, which filed for bankruptcy protection on February 6th, were raided Thursday. The company is accused of over-billing, possibly, defrauding the government.

Last week, a judge ordered Universal into receivership and on Friday, another Judge ordered an affiliated company to also enter receivership.

Desai is the former Finance Chairman of the Florida Republican Party and has contributed and raised money for many leading Republicans including Governor Jindal.

Desai, his wife, several family members, and Universal Health Care, have all contributed to Governor Jindal. 

Universal Health Care has approximately 100,000 members, 60,000 being Medicaid members and 40,000 having Medicare.

850 employees of Universal lost their jobs due to the receivership. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Pelican Institute Says Jindal Tax Swap Plan “Would Spur Economic Growth”

The Pelican Institute for Public Policy released a study Tuesday saying that Governor Jindal’s plan to eliminate the state income tax and increase the state sales tax, along with closing numerous loopholes and exemptions, would improve the State’s economy.

The study, “The Economics of Tax Reform in Louisiana, was conducted in coordination with the Beacon Hill Institute.
“This study shows that Governor Jindal’s tax reform plan gives Louisiana a unique opportunity to row its economy and boost the income of its citizens,” said Kevin Kane, President of the Pelican Institute.

“This plan has several merits and should improve Louisiana’s economic environment. There may be individual components, like the amount of the tobacco tax increase, that could be subject to further review. But the overall approach is pro-growth and could be a model for other states contemplating how to grow their economies.”
The study finds that the Governor’s tax reform would create 11,810 new jobs in the state by 2017– or roughly 3,000 jobs per year directly related to these tax changes—while maintaining revenue neutrality. It would boost investment in the state by $183 million, and increase real disposable income by $1.749 billion. That is, on average, an extra $910 for each of Louisiana’s households.

Sheng, JP Council Change Rules In Fat City Again

After outcry over her plan to allow food trucks in Fat City, District 5 Councilwoman Cynthia Sheng partially got her wish and will hold a Food Truck Festival on April 15th from 5pm-10pm in Fat City.

Food trucks have been banned in Jefferson Parish after the JP Council imposed strict rules after the influx of food trucks after Hurricane Katrina.
Now, after proposing a controversial rezoning ordinance specifically for Fat City, Sheng wants to change the rules yet again to allow for the Food Truck Festival. Previously, Sheng has approved zoning waivers for new businesses in Fat City including making allowances for banned items in the rezoning ordinance like drive-thrus, and exempting Breaux Mart from adhering to the same alcohol sale hours imposed on other businesses.

Two and ½ years after the rezoning ordinance was passed, much of Fat City remains shuttered as dozens of businesses closed or moved rather than accept reduced hours and other restrictions arbitrarily imposed by the ordinance.
As is typically the case with the Jefferson Parish Council, they approved an exemption for food trucks for the festival and are allowing Sheng to put up temporary signs to advertise the event with no discussion by a 7-0 vote.

The Festival will be held on property owned by Drago’s owner (and Sheng campaign supporter) Tommy Cvitanovich. The food trucks involved in the festival will pay Cvitanovich rent to park their trucks on his property. He claims that he will donate the rent to his foundation and will use the proceeds from the festival to beautify Fat City. Cvitanovich had been critical of Sheng's earlier plan to allow food trucks.
In contrast to restaurants, food trucks do not normally have the same fixed costs like rent and utilities that restaurants are required to pay. They also are not required to have restrooms or seating areas.
It is expected that New Orleans will send 10-15 food trucks to Fat City for the festival.  

Kenner FEMA Flood Map Open House Today

FEMA will hold a Flood Map Open House in Kenner today, Thursday, March 28th, from 2pm - 6pm at the Kenner City Council Chambers, 1801 Williams Blvd, Bldg. A.

FEMA representatives will be on hand to provide specific information on flood zones and the new flood insurance maps. Representatives from several insurance companies will also be hand to discuss the impact of the new flood maps.

The Open House is free and the public is invited.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spears Gets 6-month Delay On Contract Reform Ordinance

At the insistence of JP District 3 Councilman Mark Spears, the Jefferson Parish Council again delayed a contract reform ordinance, this time for 6-months.

In typical JP Council fashion, the vote was 7-0 with no discussion.
Spears earlier had sought a delay while he met with the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber had opposed the contract reform ordinance which would have allowed council members to choose from the Top 3 or Top 5 highest-ranking bids. The Chamber feels the ordinance would be unfair to less established minority companies.

Despite the fact that Spears and the Chamber have already met, Spears pushed for another delay.
 Citizens For Good Government (CFGG) has been actively lobbying the Jefferson Parish Council for reforms to the contract process. The group was "extremely disappointed" by the deferal.

“Citizens for Good Government is extremely upset that the proposed ordinance to reform the Request for Proposal (RFP) contracting process in Jefferson Parish has again been deferred, this time until September,” CFGG Vice-Chairman Margie Seemann said. “Although we were not entirely satisfied with the proposed reforms, and we have numerous recommendations for amending the proposed ordinance, we believe that this ordinance is a step in the right direction.”
“We were extremely happy that an RFP reform ordinance was finally placed on the February 27th council agenda. Of course, we found that this ordinance does not go nearly far enough in its proposed reforms, but it at least does propose some worthwhile reforms,” Seemann continued.

“We were disappointed when a vote on the RFP reform ordinance was again deferred at the March 27th council meeting until September. No explanation was given for the deferral for this extended length of time. CFGG believes the prolonged deferral is inexcusable and unacceptable. We need contracting reform and we need it now, even if the reform provided by the proposed RFP reform ordinance is only a step in the right direction.”

JP Councilman Spears Again Seeking To Delay Contract Reform Ordinance

Over 3 years after former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard resigned in disgrace, the Jefferson Parish Council is still dragging its feet on reforms to the process of awarding parish contracts.

After years of delay, Councilman-At-Large Chris Roberts finally authored an ordinance that would allow JP Councilmembers to choose a company that scored in the Top Three or Top Five firms in technical qualifications. In addition, the price proposed by the potential vendor would also be considered.
The ordinance was deferred at the March 13th meeting at the request of District 3 Councilman Mark Spears who said he needed more time to study the ordinance’s potential impact on minority businesses and meet with the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce.

Minority groups have complained that the ordinance is unfair to minority businesses that might not have the ability to compete with larger companies.
Now, despite having met with the Chamber, Spears is seeking another delay.

Spears is also not content with being limited to choosing from the Top 3 or Top 5 highest ranking firms.
"I have a problem not being able to choose a firm that I'm comfortable with," Spears told the Times-Picayune.

And, of course, campaign contributions don’t impact the contractors that Councilman Spears is “comfortable with”.

What’s $410,082 Among Friends?

As they have at the beginning of every Jefferson Parish Council meeting for the past several years, Citizens For Good Government (CFGG) will read off a list of those companies who have items before the council and contributed $1,000 or more in the past 4 years to a member of the council.

This meeting’s total: $410,082.
You read that right: at this council meeting alone, companies with business before the council contributed $410,082 in the past 4 years to members of the Jefferson Parish Council that will vote on giving these companies parish contracts, approving change orders and other financial matters.

The big contribution winners, as they are at most every council meeting, are Councilmen-At-Large Chris Roberts and Elton Lagasse. Roberts pulled in a staggering $106,276 from these businesses and their executives while Lagasse raked in $67,250.
Relative council newcomer Mark Spears (District 3) was a close third bringing in $67,091 in contributions, followed by Ben Zahn (District 4) with $58,579, Paul Johnston (District 2) at $45,886, and Ricky Templet with $45,250.

The big loser, besides Jefferson Parish residents, was Cynthia Sheng. The District 5 councilwoman only brought in $19,250 from companies with business before the council at this meeting. If you remember, Councilwoman Sheng brought in almost that much just from companies affiliated with Redman Gaming in one day when she was elected in 2009.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Tax Swap Debate; Mary Landrieu; Opelousas - "The New Hollywood South"

This morning, I was a guest on "The Ken & Bernie Show" with Ken Romero and Bernadette Lee on KPEL 96.5fm in Lafayette. We talked about Governor Jindal's tax swap plan, the US Senate passing their first budget in 4 years, Mary Landrieu and a little about State Senator Elbert Guillory and Opelousas "The New Hollywood South". You can listen to the interview here.

Is Opelousas The New “Hollywood South”

State Senator Elbert Guillory (D-Opelousas) has a problem with Governor Jindal’s tax swap plan.

No, Senator Guillory isn’t concerned with the tax swap’s alleged impact on low-income households in his district.
He’s not concerned with the proposal to tax services like haircuts and grass cutting.

So, what part of Governor Jindal’s plan to overhaul Louisiana’s tax system does Guillory take issue with? The state’s film tax credits.
That’s right, Senator Guillory told Governor Jindal that he will fight the Governor’s plan to change the film tax credit.

Obviously, protecting the film industry in Opelousas means more to Senator Guillory than the plan’s impact on his constituents.
The film tax credit allows companies to receive state tax credits to offset their labor and purchases in the state. The film companies then sell the tax credits to brokers and receive cash, typically 15-30% of the tax credits face value. The brokers then resell the tax credits to the wealthy to offset their personal income tax.

Does it help the film industry? Sure. The film companies get a cash infusion. Does it help the wealthy? Of course. Why does a State Senator from Opelousas care? I have no idea.
The bottom line is that Governor Jindal isn’t proposing to scrap the film tax credit but, he is seeking to alter it.

Currently, tax credits on personnel costs are not capped and the Governor wants to limit the amount of tax credits for Hollywood stars and Directors to $1 Million per film. Now, if Robert De Niro stars in a film produced in New Orleans, and earns $20 Million for the film, Louisiana gives the film company a tax credit for the $20 Million, even though De Niro will take the bulk of his salary out of the state.
If the money is leaving the state, and that portion of the film tax credit doesn’t help the state, it makes sense for Louisiana to change it, right?

Jindal calls the changes a “slight alteration”.
Not according to Senator Guillory.

In a letter to the Governor, Guillory said:
"(Y)our plan to impose a salary cap on above-the-line individuals (like providers of cast members) at $1 million is not a 'slight alteration.’”

"It would truly be ironic to abandon a growing Louisiana industry in an effort to grow industry in Louisiana," Senator Guillory said.
Stephen Moret, the state’s head of Economic Development, reiterated that Louisiana is committed to the film tax credit.

"We’ve worked to support the growth and development of the industry since day one, even supporting legislation that increased the value of the incentive program and made it permanent,” Moret said.
"Louisiana’s film tax credit program shouldn’t be subsidizing the economies of other states, such as California or New York, which is why our proposed changes will re-focus tax credits on those activities that promote spending in Louisiana. For expenditures that actually impact the Louisiana economy, there would be little to no effect from these changes."

Moret expects little to change in the way of proposed films to be produced in Louisiana.
Moret said his office "recently spoke with several of the major studios, and they continue to plan major feature film projects in Louisiana.”


State AG Investigating Cancelled Medicaid Contract; Jindal Stands By Greenstein

The State Attorney General’s office confirmed that it is also investigating the Louisiana’s now-cancelled contract with CNSI to process Medicaid claims. A Baton Rouge Grand Jury is also looking into the contract.

It was disclosed Friday that the Grand Jury had subpoenaed the state seeking documents related to the bid process where CNSI, DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein, won the $185 Million, 10-year contract.
Greenstein publicly claimed to stay out of the bid process but documents revealed that he made changes to the RFP which allowed CNSI to gain the contract.

CNSI was the low bidder however they have been accused of “low-balling” their bid to gain the contract and they have sought multiple increases to the contract amount. The total amount of the increases would put CNSI’s bid above the 2nd lowest bidder.
Assistant Attorney General David Caldwell believes that the contract should never have been given to CNSI.

"We conveyed to them (the state) the original bid submitted by CNSI was non-responsive and should never have been let in the first place," Caldwell said.
While the Grand Jury subpoenaed the information in January, the Jindal Administration just took steps this past Thursday to cancel the contract.

Despite the Grand Jury and AG investigations, Governor Jindal has not taken any action regarding Greenstein.
In a written statement, Jindal’s Chief of Staff Paul Rainwater said, “We have confidence in Bruce.”

Sunday, March 24, 2013

US Senate Passes Their First Budget In 4 Years; Landrieu Tries To Speed Up Royalty Payments

The U.S. Senate approved a $3.7 Trillion 2014 budget Saturday by a 50-49 margin. It was the first budget to pass in the Senate in 4 years.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D-New Orleans) voted For the budget while Senator David Vitter (R-Metairie) voted No.
Unlike the Republican House Bill passed on Thursday, the Senate plan calls for tax increases and some minor spending cuts but won’t balance the Federal Budget.

In a statement, Landrieu applauded the Senate plan and criticized the Republican House plan proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).
"I voted for the Senate budget because it takes a balanced approach to reduce our deficit by targeting smart spending cuts and finding additional revenues from closing loopholes in our tax code. Respected economists, including the leaders of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission and Doug Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, say that while reducing our annual deficit to a much lower percentage of GDP is a very important target, they caution against drastic reductions that would throw ice water on this growing recovery."

"The Senate Budget hits those targets while keeping economic growth and the security of the middle class at the forefront. The Ryan (House Republican) Budget, in contrast, shifts the entire burden of deficit reduction on the backs of the middle class and working poor. It pulls the rug out from this promising recovery while lavishing tax cuts to the top 1 percent. Yes, it purports to 'balance' the budget in 10 years, but at what cost to the middle class? It is an unconscionable and shameful reflection of the values America stands for."
The Senate plan also includes an amendment from Senator Landrieu that calls for the Federal government to speed up the increase of Louisiana’s share of off-shore oil and gas royalty payments. Louisiana is set to receive an increase to 37.5% in 2017. Landrieu wants that to begin immediately.  It would also eliminate the current $500 Million annual cap on royalties.

Senator Vitter offered two amendments to the budget requiring a valid photo id to vote in Federal elections and ending the government’s practice of giving away free cell phones. Both were rejected.
Congressman Steve Scalise (R-Metairie) was critical of the Senate budget plan and President Obama's continued failure to submit a budget of his own.

In a statement, Scalise claimed that the House Republican budget “is a responsible budget that balances in 10 years, saves Medicare from bankruptcy, repeals ObamaCare, and gets our economy moving again so we can create jobs through pro-growth reforms that establish a fairer and simpler tax code. Our growth-oriented budget contrasts dramatically with the liberal Senate budget that raises more than $1 trillion in new taxes and never achieves balance, as well as President Obama's failure to even meet the legal deadline to present a budget."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Early Voting Begins Today In Jefferson Parish

Early voting begins today in parts of the East Bank of Jefferson Parish, as well as Gretna and Westwego on the West Bank.

On the East Bank, four candidates, all Republicans, are vying for the 24th JDC, Division D Judge seat vacated by Judge Robert Murphy. The winner will serve the remaining year of Murphy’s former term and be subject to re-election next year.
The four, all attorneys, are:

-          Hilary Landry of Metairie. Landry has been a private practice attorney and also the head of the Jefferson Parish Drug Court Prosecutions from 2008 – 2012.She has been endorsed by The Alliance for Good Government and the Jefferson Chamber PAC among others.

-          Lorraine Perkins McInnis of Metairie. McInnis is a private attorney and is the past President of Jefferson  Bar Association.

-          Scott Schlegel of Metairie. Schlegel was a Felony Prosecutor in Jefferson Parish from 2009 – 2012 and was a Prosecutor in the Jefferson Parish Family Violence Unit from 2007 – 2008. Prior to that he was also a private practice attorney.

-          John Sudderth of River Ridge. Sudderth began his career as an Orleans Parish Prosecutor and has also been an Assistant Attorney General for the state under then-AG Charles Foti. He has also worked as a private practice and corporate attorney.

Voters also can cast early ballots for Mayors and City Councilmen in Gretna and Westwego.
In Gretna, former Councilmen Belinda Constant (D) and Vincent Cox (R) square off for Mayor.  The Alliance for Good Government has endorsed Constant.

In Gretna Council District 2, Democrat Carl Contranchis faces Joseph Marino III and Sherman Rogers. Marino and Rogers are not affiliated with any political party. The Alliance endorsed Marino.
In a lively race, four candidates are vying for Gretna Council District 3 as Rodney Hinrichs (No Party), Elaine Molaison Johnson (R), Mark Miller (R) and “Milos” Valenta (No Party), face off. Valenta was endorsed by The Alliance For Good Government, which subsequently rescinded their endorsement.

Shifting to Westwego, three candidates are seeking the position of Mayor. Ted Munch (D), Johnny Shaddinger Jr. (D) and Lisa Valence (R) meet. Shaddinger is the Incumbent while Munch is the former Councilman for District 2. Voters are also familiar with Valance as she ran against Shaddinger in 2009 and was also on the Westwego City Council.
The Jefferson Voters Federation (JVF) endorsed Munch while the Alliance endorsed Shaddinger.

Al Kaiser and Johnny Nobles Jr. are running for the District 2 Westwego Council seat. The JVF and Alliance endorsed Kaiser.

In Westwego District 3 Council race, Democrats Norman Fonseca and current Councilman Ivy Rogers meet. Rogers was endorsed by the JVF and the Alliance.
Westwego District 4 features three opponents: Harris Camardelle (No Party), Democratic Incumbent Melvin Guidry and Republican Garrison “Gary” Toups. Guidry received the support of the JVF and the Alliance.

And in District 5, Democrat John Poche’ and Courtney Watts Reyes (No Party) face Republican Incumbent Larry Warino. Warino also received the endorsement of both the JVF and Alliance.
At a forum Wednesday night, all of the Westwego candidates, except for Reyes, signed a pledge stating that they would support an end to the Crescent City Connection tolls.

Election day is April 6th. A runoff, if required, will be held on May 4th, as will the revote of the Crescent City Connection toll extension.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Economic Fallacies of The Jindal Anti-Tax Swap Crowd

While I would prefer that Governor Jindal would drastically cut the size of state government (truth be told, I think all levels of government should be drastically cut), I’ve been intrigued by his plan to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with an increased state sales tax.

However, every day it seems that you’re hearing from someone else making headlines by criticizing Governor Jindal’s tax swap plan. Whether it’s a Legislator, former Governors Blanco and Edwards, or 250 members of the Clergy, they all say the same thing: the tax swap idea will unfairly impact the poor.
They’re calling the plan “Regressive”.

But, guess what? They’re wrong.
While I don’t want to disagree with two former Democratic Governors and 250 Clergy members, they’re using flawed math and faulty logic to make their point. And, truthfully, I don't know what former Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco's point was. Sorry KBB, don't think that "the whole state is going into meltdown" either and, after the "meltdown" you had after Hurricane Katrina, I don't know how you can say that word with a straight face.

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let me preface this column by stating that I am not an Economics Professor or an Accountant.
That being said, simple economics would tell you that, if you eliminate the state income tax, you would have more money in your pocket to spend, save or invest as you wish. How can that be “regressive”?

$22.56 or $1,200: It’s Your Choice
Currently, an individual earning between $12,501 – 50,000 annually, is subject to a 4% state income tax, before deductions. If you earn $30,000 per year, that’s equal to $1,200.

Remember that $1,200 number.
If you were to spend that $1,200, the proposed state sales tax increase from 4% to 5.88% would cost you a whopping $22.56.

So, would you rather have $1,200 in your pocket and have it cost you $22.56 if you spent it, or let the state keep taking money out of your pocket each paycheck?
But, the $22.56 tax cost doesn’t begin to tell the whole story or the tax swap’s impact on low-income individuals and families.

The fact of the matter is, low-income people have less disposable income than higher-income households. Seems logical right?
Low-income households spend a higher percentage of their income on “basic needs” (housing, automobile cost and usage, groceries). In fact, it’s estimated that low-income households spend 80 – 90% on “basic needs”. That leaves 10 – 20% of their remaining income as “disposable”.
Since the “basic needs” of housing, automobile cost and usage, and groceries, aren’t subject to sales tax, and won’t be subject to sales tax under Governor Jindal’s plan, the impact of the tax swap is further minimized for low-income households.

Going back to our $30,000 example, if that household has 20% left over after their “basic needs”, they would have $6,000 in available disposable income.
If they spent that entire $6,000 in disposable income, the state sales tax increase proposed by Governor Jindal would cost the household an additional $112.80.

Again, would you rather have $1,200 in your pocket and have it cost you $112.80, or let the state keep taking money out of your pocket each paycheck?
But, Higher-Income Households Pay Less Taxes, Right?

How you answer that question may likely determine whether you are a Democrat or a Republican.
While it may be true that higher-income households may pay a lower percentage of the tax increase, that fact is offset by their corresponding higher percentage of disposable income.

Higher-income households typically spend 40 – 60% of their income on “basic needs” compared to the 80-90% that we mentioned above for lower-income “basic needs” spending.
Thus, if a household earns $100,000 per year, that would leave $40,000 – 60,000 available as “disposable” income.

If that entire amount were to be spent within Louisiana, that would yield $752 – 1,128 in new sales tax revenue due to the proposed increase.
In terms of real dollars, even at the low end, the new sales tax revenue produced by a higher-income household is over 6 times what a low-income household would yield.

Even if that figure were to be cut in half to account for savings, it would still dwarf the impact on low-income households, and higher-income households would have an additional $6,000 from the elimination of the personal income tax (currently 6% on everything over $50,000) in their pockets to spend, save or invest their money.
Since higher-income households open businesses and hire employees, the impact of eliminating the state personal income tax along with the corporate and franchise taxes, should lead to increased employment and, potentially, increased wages – a win-win for low- and moderate-income households.

The elimination of the corporate and franchise taxes will also make Louisiana more competitive economically with other states, which should lead to even more jobs.

Did You Say Loopholes And Tax Exemptions?
Now, admittedly, the Governor is proposing to install sales tax on a host of services not previously taxed. While I agree that loopholes and tax exmptions should be closed, all loopholes and tax breaks should be eliminated. It is not fair to anyone if some industries get tax breaks while others do not.

We’ll have more on the tax loopholes and exemptions as they become detailed. Trust me, all of the special interest groups attached to services that will now be taxed under Governor Jindal’s plan are just starting to make noise. Just wait until the legislative session actually starts.

The Tourist “Trap”
Since a large portion of Louisiana, particularly New Orleans and South Louisiana, relies on the tourism and hospitality industries to drive their economies, many have questioned the impact of Governor Jindal’s plan on tourism.

Don’t believe the hype here either.
When you sit down with your family to discuss where you are going on vacation have you ever said, “Honey, I don’t think we should take the kids to Disney World this year. The sales tax is just too high.”

No? Me neither.
When you book your hotel room, in most cases, you don’t even know the amount of taxes you’re paying until you check out – and then it’s too late.

The amount of local sales taxes, even Hotel/Motel taxes, is rarely, if ever, a consideration for a vacationer or a business traveler attending a convention.
According to a survey by the Global Travelers Association, New Orleans isn’t even in the Top 10 list of cities with the highest daily taxes for travelers. Even including Governor Jindal’s proposed state sales tax increase, New Orleans still won’t crack the Top 10.

In fact, New Orleans won’t even be at the same level as that tourist mecca down I-10 called Houston or other tourism hot spots like Cleveland, Minneapolis and Kansas City.
Let’s see: should we go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras or visit Minneapolis this year?

And, don’t even put New Orleans in the same category as the Top 3 most taxing cities for tourists in the USA: Chicago, New York City and Boston.
No, the state sales tax increase will have ZERO effect on tourism, business travel and conventions.

Regressive? I Resemble That Remark
Again, I’m not an Economics Professor or an Accountant. However, on an individual basis, if you call keeping more of your money in your hands to do as you wish with it, instead of handing it over to the government in every paycheck, “regressive” – then slap my face and call me “regressive” too.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jindal Administration Kills Medicaid Contract Probed By Grand Jury

The Jindal Administration has killed a $185 Million contract to process Medicaid claims after a Federal Grand Jury probe raised questions regarding ties between State Health & Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein and his former employer, CNSI, which held the contract.

In a written statement, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said, “Based on consultation with the Attorney General’s Office, today I am terminating the state’s contract with CNSI, effective immediately. The state will work with the current contractor, Molina Medicaid Solutions, to provide services during this transition and until a new RFP (request for proposal), overseen by the Division of Administration, is completed.”
"We have asked the Inspector General to look into this matter and provide assistance," Nichols said. "We have zero tolerance for wrongdoing, and we will continue to cooperate fully with any investigation."

The contract was awarded to CNSI in 2011. Greenstein, who was a Vice President with the company from 2005 to 2006, publicly took himself out of the contract process. However, documents show that Greenstein made changes to the RFP that allowed CNSI to secure the contract.
The state was issued a subpoena to produce documents by January 30th. The information came to light after The Baton Rouge Advocate filed a Public Records Request seeking the subpoena.

According to the Advocate, the subpoena requested that the state produce the following:
-          All documents submitted by the four proposers in response to the state’s solicitation of proposals. In addition to CNSI, the other proposers were ACS State Healthcare, LLC; HP Enterprise Services LLC; and Molina Medicaid Solutions. ACS of Atlanta bid $238 Million; HP of Palo Alto, CA bit $394 Million; while Molina was disqualified due to a poor technical score. 

-          All financial information, including but not limited to financial statements, income statements, balance sheets, and statements of profit and loss, submitted by the firms in connection with or response to the proposal.

-          Documents sufficient to show the date and time at which each response to the proposal was received by the state of Louisiana

It is unclear why the Jindal Administration did not take action between January 30th and now.

Kenner Council Approves Controversial Generator Maintenance Contract But With Lower Cap

The Kenner City Council approved a controversial generator maintenance contract on Thursday night but added an amendment to reduce its cap and cautioned the Yenni Administration to not exceed the state cap of $10,000 in electrical work performed without a state licensed electrical contractor.

The contract, between the City and Taylor Power Systems of Richland, MS, drew criticism from residents and was deferred by the Council after Kenner resident Jack Zewe disclosed that Taylor did not have the proper licenses to be awarded the bid.
Taylor has serviced the city’s generators since 2009 in a contract that began at $14,900. That contract was increased several times and the new contract was originally capped at a not to exceed amount of $100,000, up $20,000 over the expiring contract even though no new generators were added in the past year and the city is also supplying all of the parts and materials for the maintenance.

During the life of the contract, the city has added 12 generators to the original 37 that Taylor, then known as Kossen Equipment, serviced. 27 of the city’s current 49 generators are manufactured by Cummins/MidSouth, a Kenner company, which was the second lowest bidder losing out to Taylor by a mere $87.00. Many of Kenner's generators are still under their factory warranty and Taylor does not have any Cummins factory-trained technicians on it's staff.
Taylor bid $49,900 for the work however the Yenni Administration sought to have the contract capped not at the bid amount but at $100,000 per year, an amount more than double Taylor’s bid.

In addition, Taylor included $7,500 in the bid for 100 man hours of electrical work. Council members were fearful that amount could exceed the state’s $10,000 minimum for the state license.
Taylor and Yenni countered that Taylor would sub-contract out all electrical work to a state licensed contractor which would mean that, essentially, Taylor would simply perform routine maintenance like oil changes and would be unable to perform any electrical repairs.

The generators serve as backup power to City Hall, the Police Headquarters and jail, fire stations, sewerage lift stations and other city buildings.
Last Friday, the State Licensing Board sent a letter to Mayor Yenni saying that the city could award the contract to Taylor provided that the $10,000 electrical work limit was not exceeded.

Earlier, Councilman Kent Denapolis had said that he would push for a $50,000 cap on the contract but changed the cap to $75,000 after the Yenni Administration complained that a $50,000 cap was too low particularly if there was a hurricane.
"I was not comfortable at $100,000 a year, so we compromised," Denapolis said.

Public Works Director Jose Gonzalez said that $75,000 was more than adequate.
“I feel comfortable with the $75,000 cap,” Gonzalez said.

Despite the fact that the contract cap has increased in value from $14,900 to $75,000 in less than 4 years, Mayor Yenni and CAO Mike Quigley still contend that the contract will save the city money.
"The bottom line is we're saving the city more than $10,000 a year," Quigley told the Times-Picayune.

Councilman Denapolis alluded to the Charter Change approved last year by Kenner voters to have the Council approve all contracts valued at $100,000 or more, instead of allowing the Mayor to sign contracts at will, as part of his motivation for the increased scrutiny of this contract.
“The City of Kenner (voters) told us resoundingly to look hard at these contracts.”


Former Gov. Edwards Latest To Criticize Jindal Tax Swap Plan

Former Governor, and soon to be Reality TV star, Edwin Edwards (D) joined the chorus criticizing Governor Jindal’s tax swap plan.

Jindal has proposed eliminating the state income tax and replacing it with an increased state sales tax.
In an exclusive interview with the Lafayette DailyAdvertiser, Edwards called Jindal’s tax swap plan, “a tax plan for the rich at the expense of the poor."

"It's very poor policy, and I certainly hope the Legislature will be wise and courageous enough to recognize that it's not only bad for the poor, but on balance, it's bad for the state," Edwards said. "It would make us the highest taxed state in the nation from the standpoint of sales tax."
Edwards, along with his wife Trina, were in Lafayette Wednesday to promote a magazine cover story. Edwin and Trina are starring in an A&E reality series called “The Governor’s Wife” to premiere later this year.

Governor Makes Case For Tax Swap Plan - A Guest Commentary by Governor Bobby Jindal

Over the past five years, we overhauled our ethics laws, revamped workforce development programs, eliminated burdensome business taxes and passed landmark reforms to help give every child in Louisiana the opportunity to get a great education. Every challenge we have taken on has been about making Louisiana the best place in the world to find a job and raise a family.

Our work is starting to pay off. We're now at the top of many rankings for the best business climates in the country, and we are one of only six states that have more jobs now than at the beginning of the recession.

But - there are still too many Louisianians looking for work, too many Louisianians that want to find better-paying jobs and still too many Louisianians living in other states because they couldn't find work here.

That's unacceptable. I ran for governor to make sure that all of our sons and daughters could pursue their dreams here at home. We have made progress on that front, but our work is far from over.

One of the biggest obstacles we face in helping more Louisianians find work is Louisiana's tax code because it's complex, unstable and unfair. We have more than 460 loopholes on the books that make our system complex, volatile and unfair.

If you have a lobbyist and lawyer, you have a loophole. Let me put that a different way. In 2011, we actually went in the hole on corporate income tax by some $76 million. We actually paid companies through loopholes to not pay corporate income tax. That goes to show you our tax system is unfair and riddled with loopholes and exemptions.

We need a system where powerful special interest groups will no longer be able to rig the system. And to bring more job opportunities to Louisiana, we must start by having a tax structure that looks like it was designed on purpose.

That's why my top priority is to eliminate income taxes and more than 200 loopholes in a revenue neutral way.

Eliminating income taxes will have six benefits.

First, eliminating income taxes will help make Louisiana the best place to start a business. States with no income taxes are outperforming other states in terms of economic growth and population growth. Over the last 10 years, more than 60 percent of the three million new jobs in America were created by the nine states without an income tax.

Second, eliminating income taxes will give more control to the taxpayer. Eliminating income taxes and closing loopholes will reduce the tax burden for individuals and families across every income level.

For instance, a teacher making $45,000 per year would see her annual state tax burden reduced by more than $800 on average. An employee at a landscaping company and a stay-at-home mom making a total of about $35,000 per year would see their annual state tax burden reduced by more than $150. A plant worker making $60,000 per year would see his annual state tax burden reduced by around $1,000.

Third, by eliminating income taxes and loopholes, everyone will pay their fair share, and no more than that.

Fourth, we're going to close special interest loopholes. Powerful special interest groups will no longer be able to rig the system.

Fifth, we are going to protect food, prescription drugs and utilities from the state sales tax.

Sixth, and finally, by switching to a sales tax base, there will be more stability in funding for government services.

For too long, we've talked about getting rid of income taxes and said we need to compete with Texas and Florida. But, we've always just talked and tinkered around the edges of real reform.

This is our moment to eliminate the income tax and unleash major economic growth and opportunity in our state that will help keep our sons and daughters here at home to find jobs and raise their families.

JP 15th Healthiest Parish In State

Jefferson Parish ranked as the 15th Healthiest Parish in Louisiana, according to a new survey by The Robert Wood JohnsonFoundation.

The survey  ranked factors such as Mortality, poor physical or mental health, and a range of Health Factors including Health Behaviors (Smoking, Obesity, etc), access to health care providers, and Social and Economic Factors like education, unemployment and poverty.
Jefferson Parish scored 3rd best in the Physical Environment category which ranked items like

-          Drinking Water Safety

-          Access to Recreational Facilities

-          The Percentage of Fast Food Restaurants
JP’s lowest score, 21st, was in Social & Economic Factors. The parish scored below the Louisiana average in High School Graduation rate, Children in poverty and Children in single-parent households.

Regionally, St. Tammany was the healthiest parish ranking 3rd, followed by Plaquemines (4th), St. Charles (6th), St. John the Baptist (35th), Orleans (48th) and St. Bernard (55th).
Statewide, West Feliciana Parish was ranked 1st while East Carroll Parish finished 64th to bring up the rear.

District 82 Town Hall Meeting Tonight

State Representative Cameron Henry (R-Jefferson) will hold a District 82 Town Hall meeting tonight starting at 6pm at the Jefferson Parish Council Chambers, 2nd Floor of the Yenni Building.

Henry will discuss the upcoming legislative session and other issues, as well as take questions from the audience.

Henry has also posted an online legislative issues survey on his website,

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

No Surprise: Blanco Critical Of Jindal Tax Swap

At a meeting Monday of the Acadiana Press Club in Lafayette, former Governor Kathleen Blanco (D) was highly critical of Governor Jindal's plan to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a higher state sales tax.

"There doesn't seem to be any motivation to have a benefit to the greater good," Blanco said.

Calling Jindal's plan "a distraction", Blanco said, "The whole state is going into meltdown" over Jindal's proposed tax swap.

Blanco was also critical of the time spent debating the Jindal's plan.

"People are going to be experiencing great frustrations trying to get things done, things that are considered routine."

She added that Governor Jindal needs to "focus a little bit more on the real problems and a lot less on trying to change a tax system that is not broken."

Blanco mentioned that she hoped state legislators would instead spend their energy trying to pursue more Federal Medicaid assistance and find a way to increase teacher pay.

KLFY-TV in Lafayette has the full report here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clergy Critical Of Jindal Tax Swap Plan

A group of Louisiana Clergy leaders delivered a letter Monday to Governor Bobby Jindal’s office criticizing the Governor’s plan to eliminate the state income tax while increasing the state sales tax.

The letter was signed by 250 ministers from across the state.
In “An Open Letter from Louisiana Clergy to Governor Jindal”, the clergy state their belief that the Governor’s plan will cause low and middle-income people to increase their tax burden while simultaneously lowering the tax burden on the wealthy.

“We believe that any proposed law that would increase the tax burden on low- and moderate-income families in order to decrease it for wealthy families must be judged an unjust law,” the letter said.
“It is universally recognized that sales taxes create a disproportionate burden on poor and moderate-income families who spend nearly all they earn.”

Jefferson Parish clergy who signed the letter include:
-          The Rev. Jay Angerer, Rector, All Saints’ Episcopal, River Ridge
-          Rev. Deacon Maggie Dawson, St. Martin’s Episcopal, Metairie
-          The Very Rev. A.J. Heine, Rector, St. Augustine’s Episcopal, Metairie
-          Rev. Charmaine Kathmann, Deacon, St. John’s Episcopal/Anglican, Kenner
-          Rev. Donald C. Muth, Retired, Episcopal Diocese of LA., Metairie

The Jindal Administration disputes the premise of the letter.
“This is not an attempt to do tax reform on the backs of the poor,” said Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue.

Politico Says Governor Jindal Biggest CPAC Loser

The online blog, released it’s list of CPAC Winners and Losers. The blog says Governor Jindal was the biggest loser.

“The widespread expectation among conservative thought leaders is that the Louisiana governor will be the 2016 cycle’s Tim Pawlenty, a nice guy who would make a great cabinet secretary for the next Republican president. He pulled 3 percent in the straw poll, tied with Palin.
It was a sign of how much Jindal has been overshadowed by Paul and Rubio that throngs of attendees streamed out of the room after Romney spoke and before he took the stage an hour later. Romney himself notably omitted Jindal, who endorsed Rick Perry in the primaries, from a list of nine Republican governors that the party can learn from.

Jindal positioned himself as the GOP’s truth teller in the wake of the election, criticizing Romney and saying Republicans must “stop being the stupid party.” Many noticed that he dropped that admonition in his CPAC address.
Otherwise, he delivered an almost identical speech to the one he gave this January in Charlotte at the Republican National Committee winter meeting and, later, at a National Review conference in D.C. The governor’s advisers say that the message – embracing growth over austerity – is an important one that bears repeating.

Jindal also recycled the same jokes he delivered at last weekend’s Gridiron Dinner in Washington.
“I see Eric Holder is with us,” he said at one point, setting up a jest at the attorney general.

Holder, obviously, was not at CPAC.”

Can you say “Ouch”? I think that hurt more than the Governor’s Sunday auto accident.

You can view Politico's full report here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

WB Pre-Legislative Meeting; FEMA Flood Insurance Open House Today

Two meetings, on items of significant interest to West Bank residents, will be held today.

FEMA will hold a Flood Insurance Open House today from 2 – 7pm at the Terrytown Playground, 641 Heritage Avenue in Terrytown.
At the Open House, residents can meet with FEMA representatives, view new flood maps and meet with representatives from many insurance companies that provide flood insurance.

Later, beginning at 6:30pm, a Pre-Legislative Meeting will be held at the West Jeff Medical Center Auditorium, 1101 Medical Center Blvd., in Marrero.
Representatives from the DOTD, the Department of Revenue and the State Police will be on hand to discuss legislation in the upcoming session, the Crescent City Connection, and other items.

Admission to both meetings is free and residents are encouraged to attend.

Councilman Roberts Questions DOTD Regarding Decorative Light Payments

After the decorative lights were turned out over the Crescent City Connection Friday, Jefferson Parish Councilman-At-Large Chris Roberts is asking the State DOTD to clarify contradictory reports regarding the funding of the electric bill for the decorative lighting on the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge.

The Regional Planning Commission (RPC), a collection of elected and appointed officials, has jurisdiction over the tolls that were collected on the CCC. The tolls paid for the cost of the electric and the maintenance for the lights. The RPC, at the urging of Jefferson Parish President John Young, approved spending the toll money fund balance on a package of maintenance services for the bridge while waiting on the May 4th revote to either extend the bridge toll for another 20 years or end the tolls.
To the dismay of many, the decorative lighting on the bridge was not included in President Young’s legislation approving the continuing services.

According to the DOTD, all lighting, whether street lighting or decorative lighting on a state road, is a local issue and the cost must be borne by the local governing authority. Previously, the cost was paid through the tolls. Now, the cost must be shared by Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and the City of Gretna.
In researching this point, Councilman Roberts discovered a 2003 article in the Baton Rouge Advocate which states that the DOTD is paying for the electric bill for the Baton Rouge bridge.

The article states:
DOTD will pay the light bill, estimated to run about $3,000 a year, said assistant secretary for operations Gordon Nelson.DOTD will pay the light bill, estimated to run about $3,000 a year, said assistant secretary of operations Gordon Nelson.”

The electricity cost to run the CCC decorative lighting is estimated at $15,000 per year with an additional $60,000 per year spent on maintenance.
Councilman Roberts sent an email late Friday evening to Rhett Desselle, Assistant Secretary for the DOTD, regarding the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge.

A concerned resident inquired tonight about the cost for the decorative lights on the bridge in Baton Rouge. Can you please respond with the name of the responsible party and/or funding source that pays for those lights. This would include the electrical cost and the maintenance.A concerned resident inquired tonight about the cost for the decorative lights on the bridge in Baton Rouge. Can you please respond with the name of the responsible party and/or funding source that pays for those lights. This would include the electrical cost and the maintenance.”
Desselle responded, “In regards to the I-10 Bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, the monthly electric service for both the roadway and the decorative lighting is paid by East Baton Rouge (EBR) – Department of Public Works.”

“The maintenance of roadway lighting is handled by local government as well via a maintenance contract they have with Entergy.”
Councilman Roberts responded and cited the Advocate article and the contradiction.

While the CCC bridge is predominantly in Orleans Parish, it does cross into unincorporated Jefferson Parish and the City of Gretna. All three governing bodies must agree on a mechanism to fund the continuation of the decorative lighting or seek a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with a third-party like the Young Leadership Council (YLC) to cover the cost.
The YLC raised almost $500,000 for the initial cost of the lighting in 1989 and attempted to reach a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the Regional Planning Commission to pay for the continuation of the lighting, at least temporarily, but was unsuccessful.
“It’s unfortunate. We have the money in place,” YLC President Richard Pavlick said. “We did our best and we wanted to keep them on.”.
For his part, Councilman Roberts has no issue with Jefferson Parish paying for their portion of the bill to keep the decorative lighting on.

“I do not have a problem with Jefferson Parish paying for the portion within our jurisdiction - I do not know specifically how many of the lights that would be,” Councilman Roberts said.
To get that answer and determine JP’s portion, Monday morning, Councilman Roberts sent an email to Parish President Young asking Young to determine what the cost would be for JP’s portion of the decorative lighting bill.

“According to the state, East Baton Rouge parish is paying for decorative lights on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.

I am urging you as Parish President to have the Public Works Department determine the number of decorative lights which would fall within our boundaries of unincorporated Jefferson Parish.

I feel Jefferson Parish needs to make an offer to the state to fund the lights which would represent the portion of the bridge span located in Jefferson Parish.”
Until an agreement is reached between the governing bodies or a third-party, the decorative lights on the CCC will remain dark.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sen. Landrieu Criticizes President’s Energy Plan; Proposes Ban On Horse Meat

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-New Orleans) was critical of President Obama’s new energy plan particularly the President’s call to set up a $2 Billion alternative energy research fund from offshore oil and gas royalty payments.

The fund would be used to develop electric cars, biofuels and natural gas, among other items.
Landrieu is seeking to speed up an increase to Louisiana’s offshore royalty payments which would grow to 37.5% in 2017. Landrieu would like to see that begin immediately.

“The President's idea is not a new one and does indeed have some merit," Landrieu said. "But dedicating offshore oil and gas revenues toward this purpose and not at the same time acknowledging the role that coastal states play in producing these revenues for the nation is a grave oversight."
"As interested as I am in research and development for alternative fuels, I will not be able to support such a proposal without first addressing the inequity that currently exists between interior and coastal states."

In a separate issue, in the wake of issues uncovered in Europe involving horse meat mixed together with beef, Senator Landrieu has proposed a bill to ban the slaughtering of horses for food.

The Obama Administration is close to approving a new horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico. The 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Act lifted the ban on horse slaughtering.

According to Senator Landrieu, 80% of Americans oppose slaughtering horses for food.

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll; Jindal Comes In 9th

Senator Rand Paul (Kentucky), fresh off his historic filibuster, captured the 2013 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) presidential preference Straw Poll Saturday fending off fellow Senator Marco Rubio (Florida).

Paul captured 25% of the vote while Rubio garnered 23%.
Former Senator and Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum, who recently spoke in Lafayette, came in a distant 3rd with 8%. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie captured 7% and last year’s GOP Vice Presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), finished in 5th place with 6%.

Others capturing votes were Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker with 5%, political newcomer Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas with 4% each to tie for 7th place.
Governor Bobby Jindal tied with former Alaska Governor and 2008 Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin with 3% for 9th place.

The poll, of 2,930 attendees, was conducted between Thursday and Saturday.
Paul’s father, former Congressman Ron Paul (Texas) won the straw poll I 2010 and 2011 while Mitt Romney captured the 2012 straw poll.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gov. Jindal Says 5.88% Is Magic Sales Tax Number

Thursday, Governor Jindal disclosed details of his plan to eliminate the state income tax and replace it with a higher state sales tax rate. The current state sales tax rate is 4% and Governor Jindal is proposing to increase that rate to 5.88%.

In addition to the state sales tax, municipalities and parishes also levy additional sales taxes. The local/parish sales tax option ranges from an additional 3% to 7%.
Locally, Jefferson Parish adds 4.75% to the state sales tax while Orleans Parish adds 5% and Plaquemines adds 4%. Including the proposed state sales tax increase, the new rates would be 10.63% for Jefferson, 10.88% for Orleans and 9.88% for Plaquemines. All three parishes charge a lower local rate for Food, which is exempt from the state sales tax as is Utilities and Prescription Drugs.

In addition to raising the state sales tax rate, Governor Jindal is proposing to eliminate about 200 current exemptions, include rebates for low-income residents and retirees, and raise the cigarette tax by $1.05 per pack.
While not disclosing complete details on the entire package, which the Governor described as not “etched in stone”, the plan calls for a sales tax on some previously untaxed services including haircuts, movie and theater tickets, and landscaping to name a few.

“I know this is not the beginning or the ending of the conversation,” Governor Jindal said to lawmakers.
House Democratic leader, and gubernatorial candidate, John Bel Edwards of Amite was critical of the plan.

In a written statement, Edwards said, “It will raise taxes on most Louisiana families, Louisiana workers and Louisiana small businesses in order to give tax breaks to out-of-state corporations and the wealthy. Louisiana retailers will be especially hurt.”
If approved by the state legislature, the plan would go into effect on January 1st, 2014.   

Guest Commentary: Why The LPSC Stopped "Energy Efficiency" Program by Public Service Commissioner Eric Skrmetta

A recent opinion written in attacked the Louisiana Public Service Commission (LPSC) for overturning the energy efficiency (EE) program that was first voted into place by the LPSC in December 2012. The article published on March 3, 2013 stated, "Forty six states have implemented energy efficiency programs similar to the one rejected by Louisiana‘s PSC.”

This could well be true. Since adoption though, most of the 46 states have now realized that these programs will cost more than predicted or expected, and the costs of these programs are directly passed along to the consumer and included on each person’s utility bill. Accordingly, many of these states are now working to reduce these programs due to these higher than predicted costs.

The author used an analogy to support his opinion on energy efficiency. He wrote, “Consider my new drying machine. Last year, I replaced the dinosaur-era clothes dryer I had inherited from a previous owner of my home in southwestern Connecticut. The new drying machine cost me about $350 but also reduced my monthly electric bills fell by about $60. In other words, I saved enough money on my utility bills to pay for my new clothes dryer in only six months.”

Congratulations to the author, as that is exactly what most people do. Folks buy appliances that save them money. And they do it all the time without a government program telling them to do it or mandating their participation.

The author also noted, “The DOE’s arithmetic concludes that every dollar spent on energy efficiency creates $0.49 more economic activity than every dollar spent on an electric bill creates in local communities. This makes sense to me and 46 other U.S. states.” That is correct. Every penny you save on any expenditure allows you to spend it on something else of your choice. And every dollar less a consumer spends on his utility bill, on a program that has become suspect, is another dollar saved by the consumers to spend as they choose, not by government mandate.

We should note that the author of the article is William Pentland, Senior Director of Market Development at ClearEdge Power, 195 Governors Hwy, South Windsor, CT 06074(860) 727- 2200 | Main: 877-CLR-EDGE (257-3343). Mr. Pentland failed to note that he is also associated with ClearEdge Power. ClearEdge Power is delivering “smart” energy solutions today to improve Energy Efficiency. I wonder why they would be so focused on getting more expensive programs passed into law? I would hazard a guess that they have a dog in the hunt.

Not surprising is that, according to Eric Wesoff of, “ClearEdge recently received $2.8 million from the Federal DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy – Fuel Cell Technologies Program to deploy fuel cells in a variety of commercial buildings.” “… the money is intended to defray the upfront cost of the units.” So, the Fed subsidized this transaction, through a federal Energy Efficiency program.

Casey DeMoss Roberts, of The Alliance for Affordable Energy, made the recent comment on “What Commissioner Skrmetta did to repeal the energy efficiency law was closed, suspicious, and excluded the public.” Clearly the sour grapes eliminates the facts that the entire process was open for years, numerous comments were made, testimony was taken, and questionable reports were generated all in public. There is nothing “suspicious” or “exclusive” about a previously announced statement that the issue would be challenged in the future. The result is not to avoid an EE policy, but it is to have one that makes sense and is not cluttered by questionable reports, actions and administration.

The EE program that the LPSC approved in December 2012 was proposed through a motion, previously undistributed to the member Commissioners until the time of the vote, except for the Commissioner making the motion. The motion was even made before the contract consultant that was hired by the commission had completed his study of EE programs in other states. The December motion was, in my opinion, railroaded through process and I chose to vote for it; and then publicly stated that I voted for the motion so that, under Roberts Rules of Order, I would be able to bring this matter up again when it would be possible to challenge the EE policy in the future in order to obtain a more meaningful option.

By way of illustration, let’s review what the former LPSC EE policy would have created:
  1. A bureaucracy spending thirty million dollars ($30,000,000.00) of ratepayer money to be spent over the next four years for unspecific purposes for a “Phase 1” program. The money would be spent to hire third party administrators who would then develop programs on how to spend money on EE through unknown mechanisms. That money had to be paid for by rate payers and would have appeared as an additional charge on consumers’ bills. That was only Phase 1, and there is no knowing how many other phases would be sought to support the groups seeking to manage these poorly developed programs.
  2. These third party administrators would have selected high efficiency appliances to advertise through your utility bill. I personally question how and under what circumstances these third party administrators were going to “solicit” manufacturers to be selected for the approved list. I find this aspect capable of breeding inherent conflicts of interest at the third party administrator’s level.
  3. Please note that participation in this program was mandatory! That is, unless you are an industrial user, which were exempt from the EE policy. So users of 78% of the state’s electricity output did not have to participate in, or pay for, the EE policy. Representation of industrial users in other jurisdictions can create conflicts of interest.
So, as a result of the question of potential conflicts having been so clearly raised at that point, all consultants of the LPSC now have to sign a statement under oath that they have no conflict in representing the LPSC.

The LPSC was referenced in the Forbes article as “Luddites” (“Opponents of technological progress.”) Nothing could be further from the truth. What is true is the LPSC is positioned as a watchdog for consumers and exists in part to identify ways that some groups use to try to fleece consumers.

In any future development of an energy efficiency policy in Louisiana there are factors the commission may want to include:
  1. The program would be voluntary.
  2. The program would encourage participation from the industrial sector as they consume 78% of the electricity.
  3. Each utility should manage its own EE policy and save Louisiana ratepayers tens of millions of dollars in the process by eliminating special interest groups from sticking their gob in the trough containing ratepayer money.
  4. Encourage utilities to take meaningful action to assist residential users in the task of weatherizing homes and educating the public in ways to save electricity. Utilities should bear this cost, not ratepayers.
It’s difficult to understand how groups who seek to make energy affordable for consumers want to work in ways that actually cost consumers more money on their utility bills. As a Commissioner, I am suspect of groups seeking to manage an EE policy when that policy should be dealt with by the utility, at its expense. There is room in the future for an improved EE policy for Louisiana. But, we need an EE policy free of third party conflicts of interest and one that helps reduce the need for future electrical infrastructure, and one that truly helps helping folks save money. I am confident we will get onto this work in due time, but in a way that is reasonable and untainted by financial gain for third party administrators, and in the public interest.