Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gas Tax Hike Death Great News For Louisiana; Even Better for Kenner

When I heard the news that Baton Rouge State Rep. Steve Carter, a Republican no less, had proposed a $.17 gas tax hike, I almost lept out of my seat.

Aside from almost doubling the current $.20 cent per gallon gas tax, taxes on gasoline are one of the more regressive forms of taxation out there. Gas taxes disproportionately impact lower income individuals. Everything is impacted by gas taxes. Farmers pay more to run their equipment. Public transportation costs increase. The cost of transporting goods to retail stores and food to grocery stores and restaurants increases. Costs increase at all levels and we all know who pays for that added cost – you and I.

So, essentially, a gas tax hurts consumers in multiple ways – directly at the gas pump and indirectly as the cost of goods increases.

 Proponents of the gas tax increase, including Kenner State Rep. Julie Stokes (who is campaigning for the State Treasurer’s job), point to the high cost of vehicle maintenance on Louisiana drivers and the backlog of state projects that aren’t funded.

And, after all, the average cost to drivers for the gas tax hike is only a few hundred dollars per year. Clearly it’s worth that cost for improved roads and less time in traffic, right?


First, while the backlog of state projects is massive, there is no panacea for reducing traffic congestion. Besides, the main traffic bottlenecks in most Louisiana cities, from New Orleans to Shreveport, is the antiquated Federal interstate system.

Sure, there are state road issues. But adding $.17 to every gallon of gas won’t make the fix the potholes in New Orleans or make rush hour traffic on Williams Blvd. in Kenner (or Johnston Street in Lafayette, or any road in Baton Rouge) any better.

Besides, many municipalities, including Kenner, have tax dollars already allocated for road maintenance.

And, we haven’t even touched on the waste, fraud and abuse at the Louisiana DOTD.

As is typical in Louisiana, only 11% of the current $.20 per gallon state tax actually goes to roads, bridges, etc. You know, the things that a gasoline tax should actually go for.

Where is the other 89% spent?

DOTD salaries; the State Police; and a chunk is diverted to pet projects across the state that have little to nothing to do with transportation.

So, I was relieved when State Rep. Carter pulled his gas tax bill, even after he dropped it down from $.17 to $.10.

Whether it’s $300 Million annually that would have been collected at the revised $.10 rate, or the $500+ Million from the original $.17 figure, that money will be better spent by you than our state government.

While I realize that there were amendments added to the bill and other bills requiring the money to go to actual projects (other than the State Police and DOTD salaries), that would not have fixed the already bloated DOTD and the 89% of the current tax NOT spent on roads and bridges.

Our Governor and Legislators should fix those issues FIRST, before coming to us and making us pay higher taxes.

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t need better roads and our bridges don’t need to be maintained and the backlog of road projects aren’t needed. Clearly, we need to maintain what we have and add where we can. But, I am saying that there needs to be a better option than almost doubling a tax.

As is the case with elected officials today, instead of fixing a problem (DOTD waste, fraud and abuse; diverting the current gas tax from roads), they try to spend themselves out of the problem (at our expense).

The death of the gas tax hike means we won’t have more money taken from our pockets and that’s good news for all Louisianans, but it’s even better for Kenner residents and it all has to do with Louis Armstrong International Airport.

The Airport? What does that have to do with the gas tax increase?

When it was announced that Armstrong Airport was expanded, I tried to sound the alarm that the expansion would be bad for the City of Kenner.

Then-Mayor and current Jefferson Pairsh Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni, was giddy over the expansion and could only see $ signs as he thought of ways to add permits and fees to make some short-term money from the expansion.

The bigger issue to me was the addition of flyover ramps from the airport that would divert traffic from Kenner intersections (and businesses). While less traffic in Kenner is certainly a plus, the loss of sales tax dollars from motorists and car renting tourists stopping to buy food, fuel or other items, would impact Kenner’s finances (and our businesses) for years to come.

While the construction of the flyovers is years behind, Yenni took the additional step of making the funding of the flyovers a top priority for the Jefferson Parish Legislative Delegation.

Since the flyovers will cost Kenner (and Jefferson Parish) sales tax revenue, this makes absolutely no sense.

In an effort to get additional votes for his gas tax bill, Rep. Carter tried specifying projects in his bill that would be funded with the increased gas tax revenue.

Sure enough the Armstrong flyovers were included.

While the flyovers will be constructed eventually, I’m told that the construction is 6-8 years behind schedule, the further this can be kicked down the road the better for Kenner and our businesses.

In addition to the loss of sales tax revenue, the flyovers will also require the Loyola Fire Station to be moved, costing the City of Kenner and its residents more money.

Yes, the short term fees and permit revenue from the Airport is nice, but they would have been nicer if our City Council hadn’t already spent every last penny on pet projects instead of saving the money and allocating it towards the fire station relocation and the businesses that will be hurt by Mike Yenni’s deal with the Devil (yes, I’m talking about you Mitch Landrieu).

In the end, the Armstrong Airport expansion will hurt Kenner. Instead of doing their jobs and putting Kenner First, Yenni and the then-City Council only thought about themselves and how they could funnel more money to their campaign contributors in the form of lucrative no-bid engineering contracts for meaningless projects.

Perhaps Kenner State Rep. Julie Stokes should also do her job and put Kenner First instead of campaigning for another job.

While I didn’t ask him, I seriously doubt that John Kennedy, the man Stokes is trying to replace, would have approved of the $.17 tax hike and I also seriously doubt that Louisiana wants a new State Treasurer that looks to increase taxes first.

With the death of the gas tax, and without the full funding for the flyovers, Kenner is safe – for a bit. At least until the next time a politician tries to reach into your pocket and raise your taxes instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of actually reforming our state and its finances.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lyin’ Ben Starts To See The Light – 6 Years Later

I don’t often laugh out loud and I don’t know that I’ve ever laughed out loud while watching the annual Kenner Budget Meeting, but this year I laughed out loud on several occasions.
The fact that I watched the Budget Meeting on a replay on KTV at 3am, is proof of my insomnia. This year, unlike in years past, I was forced to watch the meeting on TV since Kenner's Public Information Officer (a former T/P reporter) does such a great job of informing the public of "Public Information".
No pun intended but "Information" is in the middle of your job title although the truth is, I've always believed that Kenner having a "Public Information Officer" was a complete waste of tax dollars. But hey, it's better than him being the Deputy Clerk of Courts, right? Oh, that's right - he WAS the Deputy Clerk of Courts in the Yenni Administration.

Normally, the budget meeting is a pretty dry affair – nothing overly contentious and nothing earth shattering. The Department Directors parade up to the microphone and give out terse details about their departments and where our money is being spent. Typically, each Department Director is at the mic for a few minutes and, almost always, they parrot the same lines: “It’s a pretty much standstill budget with only increases for insurance and pensions.”

Some larger departments, like Recreation, receive more time than others.

During the Muniz years, Mayor Edmund barely spoke. Since his back was to the audience, and since I knew Muniz, I often believed that his silence was because he was nodding off. Truth be told, I’ve nodded off at a few budget meetings myself and I’m probably 20 years younger than Ed.

During Jefferson Parish’s Sexual Predator-In-Chief’s tenure as Kenner Mayor, Mike Yenni also barely spoke differing to then-CAO Mike Quigley or then-Finance Director Duke McConnell. I cannot confirm that Yenni’s silence was due to him sexting underage boys  or daydreaming about stalking them in public restrooms (although that certainly is a possibility).

This year’s budget meeting was a little different affair with Lyin’ Ben Zahn, in his first swing at the budget (and, with any luck, his last).

While new CAO Deborah Foshee did the bulk of the heavy lifting (just as in real life where Lyin’ Ben can’t carry his own weight), Zahn did speak more than Muniz and Yenni combined.

Not sure if that is a good thing or not, but it certainly did make me laugh.

When Lyin’ Ben defeated me in 2011 for the Jefferson Parish District 4 Council seat, I made an issue of the over funding that Kenner sent to Jefferson Parish. I highlighted 3 areas that Kenner was drastically over funding JP and not receiving the proper amount of services for our tax dollars:

1). The RTA. Kenner tax payers were spending several hundred thousand dollars (at the time, I think it was about $800k) along with more from the City’s General Fund, for poor bus service.

2). The JP 911 Service. Kenner tax payers were also spending about $500k more to fund JP’s 911 call center despite the fact that Kenner had its own 911 call center and doesn’t use JP’s.

3). The Lafreniere Park tax. On every water bill, Kenner residents pay a tax to support Lafreniere Park. In 2011, the tax generated about $400k for Lafreniere Park. There was a time when this may have made sense but, Kenner has its own parks now and that funding could better be utilized by Kenner for Kenner recreation.

None of the three were original ideas by me. I merely tried to cast more light on them and, if I were elected, I would have made it a priority to get Kenner its fair share.

While I doubted that I would be able to secure the almost $2 Million annually in over payments sent to JP annually, it was clear that even if ½ came back to Kenner, the City could use that money for infrastructure, recreation and public safety.

On the campaign trail, on the few times where Lyin’ Ben would debate me or meet me at a community forum, Zahn scoffed at getting this funding back from JP.

To be fair, after some citizen pressure and with Mike Yenni taking credit for it, Zahn was able to secure about $250k in rebates from the RTA. At the time, it was supposed to be a one-time deal but at the budget meeting it appears that Kenner is receiving slightly more than the $250k Zahn secured but nowhere near the $900k in annual tax dollars or the $500k city subsidy that the RTA currently receives for the Kenner loop.

During his time on the JP Council, Zahn never addressed the 911 fee or the Lafreniere Park tax.

Now, it appears, that Zahn has changed his tune and wants more money back from the RTA or better service (or both).

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, Lyin’ Ben suggested that the Kenner City Council write a letter to the JP Council seeking the RTA rebate.


You were on the JP Council representing Kenner for 5+ years and now a letter from the City Council is all it will take to get more money?

If you’re like me (and God help you if you are), you laughed heartily at that.

One of my other “laugh-out-loud” moments came when Lyin’ Ben discussed JEDCO.

For years, I’ve advocated against Kenner paying $75k annually to JEDCO. After all, Kenner is part of JP and JEDCO should be working for us anyway.

When Yenni contracted with JEDCO, he said that the costs involved in having an in-house Economic Development Department in Kenner would far outweigh the $75k sent to JEDCO.

Now, Lyin’ Ben wants to hire a Mayoral Assistant in charge of Economic Development and pay him/her $50k, saving Kenner $25k, although the bulk of that savings will go to benefit costs.

This is a good thing for Kenner, assuming that Lyin’ Ben can find a quality Economic Development person for $50k and, there was no money allocated in the budget for travel and other expenses which would be crucial for visiting potential companies that might consider Kenner.

So, for the moment, pending an announcement on who will be Kenner’s new Economic Development Guru (since clearly, no one wants Lyin’ Ben the unlicensed Florist in charge of Economic Development), I guess we should be giving Zahn props yet.

Even Lyin’ Ben isn’t giving himself props.

“Let’s try it for a year or two and, if it doesn’t work, we can always go back to JEDCO.”

Since the JEDCO experiment didn’t work, why don’t we just drive down Williams Blvd and throw 75,000 $1 bills out the window.

Now, if Lyin’ Ben were truly bold, he would also stop the JCVB money grab that robs Kenner of its Hotel/Motel tax dollars with no accountability.

In the years since Yenni dissolved the Kenner Convention & Visitors’ Bureau (KCVB), Kenner has funneled our tax dollars to the JCVB, which is controlled by Yenni and Zahn’s campaign manager, Greg Buisson. If you want to read about Lyin’ Ben’s part in the KCVB issue, click here.

The JCVB has provided no accounting of where Kenner’s tax dollars have been spent and there has been no benchmarks set regarding hotel occupancy or conventions attracted to the Pontchartrain Center, etc.

Where has the hundreds of thousands of dollars annually sent to the JCVB (and the “Marketing Fund” promised by SMG for Yenni’s covert renewal of the Pontchartrain Center management) gone?

Aside from Greg Buisson’s greedy pockets, your guess is as good as mine.

So, while Lyin’ Ben is starting to see the light and taking steps with the RTA and in-house Economic Development, these are only baby steps. He hasn’t done anything yet regarding the RTA and hasn’t hired the Economic Development person, so, for now anyway, they are only baby steps.  

And no, I’m not taking a shot at Lyin’ Ben’s small stature.

Although I just made myself laugh out loud again.
Thanks Ben.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Kenner Councilman Offends White People and Women In The Same Breath

I have long riffed on the intelligence or rather, the lack of intelligence, of Kenner District 4 City Councilman Lenny Cline.

Cline is the posterchild for the indisputable fact that having a college degree, let alone two, is not a sign of intelligent life.

Don’t believe me? Attend a Kenner City Council meeting while Cline is still Council President. How someone can still screw up minor procedures like calling for a vote to open a public hearing is beyond me.

And please explain to me how you can put together a three-person committee (with yourself being one of the three) and screw that up?
When a major project for a new apartment complex in his District was up for approval at a Council Meeting, Cline said, "I don't have any negative or positive thoughts on the project until I see all the evidence. I want to know what's going there and why, and what quality of units will be there."

Need more proof?

It’s ok…I will wait.

As if the mountain of verbal faux pas spewing from Cline weren’t enough, at Thursday’s Kenner City Council Meeting Cline stunned even me.

Near the end of the meeting, Cline was attempting to make a point about Kenner’s diversity.

After saying that all White people “look alike” (sorry Lenny – you and I look nothing alike), Cline stated that “Kenner even has a Female City Attorney”.

The horror!

I know you are as shocked as I am that the City of Kenner, the 6th largest City in Louisiana, would have a woman as its City Attorney.

Since the departure of former Mayor and current Jefferson Parish Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni to Parish government resulted in many Yenni-Loyalists including one of his most trusted lap dogs, former Interim City Attorney Mike Power (who was “Interim City Attorney” so that Yenni could circumvent the will of the Kenner people and dodge Kenner’s residency requirement for Department Directors, a circumvention that is continuing in the Lyin’ Ben Zahn administration), former Kenner Assistant City Attorney Leigh Roussel was promoted to Kenner City Attorney.

Roussel, who was Assistant City Attorney for several years, is eminently qualified. My dealings with her in the past have always been professional, even when we’ve disagreed.

Her promotion to City Attorney was long overdue and Kenner is lucky to have her.

Even if she is a woman. Right Lenny?

Well folks, for Lenny Cline’s sake, I sure hope he too has really small feet.

We already know that he has a really small brain.  

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

$40+ Million And We Get Fake Bricks? Only In Kenna Brah

When former Kenner Mayor and current Jefferson Parish Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni took on the largest debt in Kenner’s history for “beautification” and public art in medians, I don’t think the good people of Kenner thought they would be getting fake bricks painted with stencils.

After all, we’re talking about the medians of some of Kenner’s most trafficked roadways, not a grade school art project.

But, if you drive down many Kenner streets including 32nd Street from Williams Blvd. into The Esplanade or Williams Blvd. through Rivertown or many other streets in Kenner, you don’t see public art in the medians or trees or anything that would remotely be considered “beautification”.

What you do see is fake bricks painted over the concrete medians.

It was almost 4 years when I sat down with former Times-Picayune columnist Jim Varney to discuss the largess of Yenni’s 2030 Plan and the excessive spending involved in the Yenni Administration. If you want a refresher, here’s a link to the article.

In the nearly 4 years since that article appeared, in addition to the $42 Million or so in debt that Yenni sold, the City of Kenner has received Millions in Federal, State and Regional grants that went towards many of the road projects involved in Yenni’s scheme.

In addition, Kenner received $6.9 Million from the BP Oil Spill Settlement and over $1 Million more from permits and fees involving the new Armstrong Airport Terminal.

And, a few short weeks ago, voters in Kenner approved the renewal of property tax millage for road maintenance costing property owners several Million more for the next ten year. 

When he discussed the BP Oil Spill Settlement money, Yenni said,

"Imagine how those funds will be put to good use as we reshape Kenner for generations to come." He gave no hint of his administration's plans for the money.

And this is on top of the supposedly transformative $42 Million from the 2030 Plan debt that was supposed to remake Kenner into a pedestrian-friendly suburb that young millennial families would flock to.

So, where did all the money go?

Was the money spent on making the intersection of Williams and Vets more “pedestrian-friendly”? After all, that was one of the topics that Jim Varney and I discussed 4 years ago.

No. The City did build a bike path on Williams Blvd. under I-10 for the thousands of bike riders that traverse up Williams Blvd. daily. Ok, maybe it’s not “thousands” but I have seen more than 1 person riding his bike under I-10. Sadly, I’ve never seen more than 1 at a time though.

Kenner also got another overpriced bike path on David Drive that is also lightly used.

Ok, was the money spent on making Williams Blvd. safer? After all, that was one of the largest projects in Yenni’s 2030 Plan.

No, Williams Blvd. has changed much except for the repair of the sinkhole near the Circle K at Williams and Vets.

So, again I ask, where’s the money?

4 years after the bond debt was sold and the people of Kenner have never received an accurate accounting of not only the 2030 Plan Debt, the amount of grants received, or the funding of the projects, and, if grant funding was used for the projects and replaced money that was budgeted, what was the budgeted money spent on?

Kenner is building a $1.5 Million shed though.

I guess when Yenni was talking about all the projects that would “reshape Kenner for generations” and some folks foolishly believed the lines about the need for “beautification” to attract young, affluent families to Kenner, we should have known that the priorities were building “The Taj Mahal of sheds” to keep outdoor generators secure and buying stencils and paint for fake bricks in medians.

Well, I guess it’s better than spending tourism money for decorative street lighting, right Lyin’ Ben?

Only in Kenna Brah…