The Louisiana Legislature

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Normally, news of a $300 million surplus at the end of the State’s fiscal year would be good news, but here in Louisiana it is prompting questions and accusations amongst the political talking heads.

All summer long Louisiana residents were pummeled with news that our budget was facing a terrible deficit and that this would lead to Medicaid patients being evicted from nursing homes, convicts being released from prison, elimination of the food stamp program, and major cuts to higher education.  We spent over a million dollars to hold three special legislative sessions in which we fought over a sales tax renewal of less than a penny which would supposedly solve all these budget problems.

And now, like a rabbit out of a hat, we have a $300k surplus.

Now, it’s not that we aren’t glad to have this money to spend on worthy projects.  We are.  But by and large, many people feel played.  Manipulated.  How can you be that far off with your fiscal projections?

Governor John Bel Edwards now says that this surplus is double good news because not only do we not have a deficit, but we have a robust economy which sparked this higher than expected revenue and so… voila!  Surplus!

Some aren’t buying it; Louisiana State Senator Conrad Appel:

The way I see it there are two ways to explain this sudden revelation. One is that the governor and his staff were so inept that they could not see that revenues were improving and therefore truly believed in the fiscal cliff nonsense. That would have been bad, as we all trust him to manage a $29 billion business which is the state of Louisiana. If he doesn’t know where the money is, we have a problem.

The other possibility is that he and his people knew perfectly well that there was no fiscal cliff because we were bringing in more tax revenue than we were told. Instead, perhaps to support his well-articulated plan to grow government spending, he chose to ignore the facts and to not tell us that there was no fiscal cliff. That would not just be bad, that to me would be disingenuous and possibly even a violation of his oath of office.

I can think of no other options. We either have terrible fiscal management or we have been purposefully misled.

Even better?

Now Governor Edwards wants to give teachers a $1000 annual pay raise.  (It’s an election year, you know.)

So, it’s either a glass half full or glass half empty situation.  You have a robust economy or you have an inept government.  Or both?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random thoughts this week:

Book Reviews:  I’ve finished reading two books this week: What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren, and Educated by Tara Westover.  Both have been books that leave what I call a book-hangover, which is to say that they were both so good that it’s been difficult to get into another book immediately after.  Cat Warren’s book about her work and training with her cadaver dog, Solo, is a thoroughly researched and engaging story.  It’s not your sentimental dog tale where you need a box of tissues at the end.  Not that kind of book – you are safe.  I learned so much about the science of dogs and scent and about how handlers train and work with these dogs.  Warren’s dry humor, quick wit, and solid science make this a thoroughly engaging read.

Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated, is a heart-wrenching story about her very unconventional childhood.  Westover was home-schooled in the loosest sense of the word and never set foot in a classroom until she was seventeen years old. Her father, most likely mentally ill, is a survivalist and the Westover children spent their days stocking the root cellar for the End of Days and working their father’s scrapyard. Their mother is an herbalist and midwife and her essential oils and other cures were used to treat all of the family’s injuries including third-degree burns and loss of fingers.  To escape the abuse of her older brother and to make her own way in life, Tara buys a math book and an ACT practice book, teaches herself math, and gets into Brigham Young University.  She doesn’t stop there.  I could not put this book down and now I can’t quit thinking about it.

Speaking of Education:  As you may remember, my students are participating in free-choice reading this semester.  I started building a classroom library last spring and through my Amazon Wish List and my own weekly trips to thrift stores and second-hand book shops, we now have just over 300 unique titles (plus some duplicates) in our classroom.  I’ve been giving updates on my blog about their progress but the short version is that so far, here at the end of week four, this is a success.  I have students that have read multiple books now.  They are writing about what they are reading and they are talking with me about their books.  Even better, they are asking me for suggestions for their next books as well as giving me titles to add to our Wish List!  Keep in mind, most of my students came into my classroom telling me that they don’t read for pleasure and could not remember the last book they read outside of required school texts.  It’s still early in this project, but I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing in my classroom every day!  It’s very exciting to watch!

Still Speaking of Education:  It’s an election time in Louisiana and our governor is proposing a teacher pay raise.  John Bel Edwards is up for re-election in 2019 so it’s apparently time to get the teachers on board.  He thinks a $1,000 annual pay raise will do it.  Let me make this very clear:  he can give me whatever pay raise he wants to but until he returns teacher autonomy to the classroom and abandons canned, scripted lessons, I’m not voting for him.  Period.  Call me a single-issue voter, I don’t care. I.Don’t.Care.

Hurricane Gordon:  The tropical storm we were watching last week turned and fizzled.  This is not a bad thing necessarily but now officials are worried about giving too many false warnings:

Louisiana officials declared an emergency, called out the National Guard, shuttered schools and closed courthouses as Tropical Storm Gordon drew near, but the weather system bucked east and left the Pelican State unscathed.

Such false alarms are the cost of a robust emergency response system, scientists and government officials said Wednesday. Some worried residents could become desensitized to future alerts.

“People think they’re getting over-warned,” said meteorologist Frank Revitte of the National Weather Service’s Slidell office, which issues forecasts for southeastern Louisiana.

I think I’d rather have the warning than not.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPOT — Last week Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator visited with Erin McCarty and Robert J. Wright on our local 710 KEEL radio about Governor John Bel Edwards touted Criminal Justice Reform.

The bipartisan legislation revamping the way Louisiana deals with criminals and crime was passed in 2017 in an attempt to lower Louisiana’s notoriously high incarceration rate.  The reform bill was authored by six Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent.  Those designations mean little though; in Louisiana all you have to do to get re-elected to the other side of the legislative chamber is change your political affiliation, if not your beliefs.

In a meeting with President Donald Trump in early August, Governor John Bel Edwards said, “In Louisiana, we’re proud of the work we’ve done. It’s been sentencing reform, prison reform, and a real focus on reentry and for the first time in 20 years, I can tell you Louisiana does not have the highest incarceration rate in the nation today.”

In 2017, U.S. News and World Report listed the top ten states with the highest incarceration rate in the nation and Louisiana was number one, and designated the prison capital of the world.

Everyone agrees there is a problem here but consensus begins to diverge when we begin to nail down what those problems are and how to solve them.  Senator John Kennedy, (R-LA) is one of those voices against the new reforms:  “Well, the governor and I just disagree,” said Kennedy. “He thinks our problem in Louisiana is we have too many prisoners. I think our problem is we have too many people committing crimes.”

Sheriff Prator is more specific.  In his visit on KEEL radio last week he enumerated several changes he believes are problematic.  One of his concerns is that the re-entry programs that are supposed to help the newly released acclimate into society are not yet in place.  “We’re designing the bus while we’re driving the bus,” he said, “and somebody is gonna get killed, and people are getting killed…”.

Sheriff Prator is referring to two prisoners who were arrested on drug charges that were released in November, who have now committed murder, and have been rearrested.  One of these was in Ouachita Parish and the other in Bossier Parish.

These re-entry programs are supposed to be funded in part by the savings gained from lowering the incarceration rate.  Sheriff Prator directs citizens to page 38 of the Practitioners Guide for the new reforms which explains that in the first year, 35% of the savings will go to the Office of Juvenile Justice for Strategic Investments and to the Department of corrections for the same purpose.  Nobody has said what those strategic investments are; Sheriff Prator did not know.

Still in the first year, 14% of the savings will go to Victims’ services (this number drops to 10% after the first year.) Twenty-one percent goes to “Grants: community-based programs” (drops to 15% after year 1) and 30% of the savings from early release goes to the General Fund to be spent at legislators’ discretion.

What concerns Sheriff Prator a great deal can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the Practitioner’s Guide which outlines new thresholds and penalties for non-violent crimes.  Apparently, we are not all in agreement on what “non-violent” means.  For example, under the new law, a person could barge into my home with a firearm and could be free the very next day.  This is now a probationary offense.  Specifically, the former penalty for this was mandatory five to thirty years.  Now it is 1-30 years and the one year is not mandatory, according to Sheriff Prator.

Another example: no longer considered a violent crime is “mingling harmful substances”; in other words, if someone drops a date rape drug in your drink, this is a non-violent offense.  So is extortion and a drive-by shooting if you happen to miss hitting a person.  See page 7 of the Practitioners Guide for these.

Here is the chart found on page 7 of the Guide:

Penalties for crimes have been drastically altered as well, such as debt forgiveness.  One scenario described by Sheriff Prator would be that of a repeat offender for theft, for example.  If the judge orders that person to reimburse the victim, the most they have to pay back is the equivalent of one day’s wage per month, and if they do that for one year the balance of the debt is forgiven.

Additionally, third and fourth DWI offenses are now backed down to probation and may qualify for diversion, which means that it is not recidivism if it never happened.  At least on record.

Nobody, not even Sheriff Prator, thinks our prison system was without fault before these reforms.  Everyone agrees that change was needed.  But perhaps we have once again passed a bill without really knowing what is in it.  At the very least, we have passed a bill that releases prisoners without the safety net to keep them from reoffending.  Those programs simply do not exist yet and that is not a good situation for the citizens of Louisiana or the newly released.

Read the Practitioner’s Guide; it’s not a complicated document.  You can find it here.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $650 million dollar fiscal cliff and two previous special legislative sessions have failed to solve the dilemma, and so special session number three begins today, at a cost of about $60,000 per day.

Throughout this crisis the normal groups have been targeted and threatened for extinction: higher education and health care.  In May, 30,000 Medicaid recipients were threatened with eviction from nursing homes as their benefits were threatened.  The popular TOPS scholarship program has been targeted for deep cuts which has filled parents and students with anxiety. The latest threat is that the food stamp program for the entire state will be cancelled in January unless legislators find a solution to this budget shortfall.

In simplest terms, state democrats want to raise revenue through additional taxes while state republicans want to cut funding.  It’s a bit more complex than that, obviously, but that’s the crux of the issue:

Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus, which has positioned itself as the largest opponent to Edwards’ agenda, vowed it “will not waver” in the third.

“Since the first day of this legislative session and throughout the special session, the Louisiana House Republican Delegation has been crystal clear in its opposition to growing the size of government,” the caucus said in its statement. “We will enter into the upcoming special session laser-focused on reducing state spending and meeting the critical needs of the state. Our commitment to the taxpayers will not waver.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) wants to raise revenue through extending an expiring tax:

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to give a short session-opening address about 5 p.m., urging lawmakers to agree to extend one-half of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. House Republican leaders have been steadfastly opposed to the half-cent proposal and continue to push for a smaller fraction.

And so while both sides are steadfast in their positions, it seems, and unwilling to come to any compromise, we are spending around $650,000 million for each special session.

Makes perfect sense to me.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

 By:  Pat Austin

Louisiana State Capital

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $994 million fiscal gap if the legislature can’t break gridlock in the current special session which ends Wednesday.

Expiring sales tax laws are primarily the culprit for the shortfall but many contend that years of Bobby Jindal’s shell games are also partly to blame.

Whatever the cause, everything is now on the table for cuts: hospitals, law enforcement, higher education, college scholarships, you name it.

Republicans have a majority in both the House and the Senate, but votes are needed from both sides to pass any kind of legislation at this point that will break the gridlock that has crippled this session.

So far, little has been agreed upon but by the end of last week momentum began to pick up and the following bills were agreed upon by the House and moved to the Senate:

HB 3 by Rep. Frank Hoffmann, which would require able-bodied Medicaid recipients work or volunteer to keep their eligibility, although there is some wiggle room in terms of how strongly it would be enforced.

HB 2 by Rep. Tony Bacala, which aims to combat Medicaid fraud by allowing the legislative auditor access to recipient tax returns.

HB 27 by Rep. Pat Smith, which would implement a 60-cent-per-year tax for accessibility programs for the deaf.

HB 10 by Rep. Ted James, which would increase federal income tax liability by the amount someone’s federal income tax was lowered during 2016 or 2017 after claiming the federal standard or itemized deduction for certain net disaster losses. It’s supposed to help flood victims from the 2016 March and August floods.

It seems certain that the shortfall can not be resolved without higher taxes which has been the cause of much grumbling and discontent at the water cooler and there has been discussion on who would be paying those taxes.

For the second year in a row Louisiana is at the bottom of the list of states with sound fiscal stability.

Whatever the final outcome, the lasting impression of this special session has been one of sniping, finger-pointing, and impasse.  A typical day at the office for the legislature.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport; follow her on Instagram at patbecker25

 

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That is the portion of the Declaration of Independence that Louisiana’s schoolchildren in fourth through sixth grades will now be required to recite daily at the beginning of school.

Despite the somewhat incoherent objections of Rep. Barbara Norton, the bill to recite from the Declaration was revived last week and has now passed the Louisiana House with a 70-23 vote.  It now heads to the state Senate.

Most schools in Louisiana still recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily, to my knowledge and experience, and now this mandate will require the recitation of this passage from the Declaration.  I have no problem with it, personally, however I can see objections on the grounds that it is a mandate.  As educators, we are drowning in mandates.  Teachers want the government out of their classrooms and be allowed to teach their content material.  I get that.

I see both sides of this one and perhaps leaving this optional, as the Pledge is, is the correct compromise.

On the grounds of content, however, I have no objection whatsoever.

You can see where this becomes a slippery slope, however.  Everyone wants to add their two cents:

Before the legislation passed, Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, tried to get an amendment attached to the bill requiring that students also recite a portion of King’s “I have a Dream” in addition to that section of the Declaration of Independence. The House shot Price’s amendment down on a 45-51 vote.

Other amendments to have students recite the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which abolished slavery — and a speech from the women’s suffrage movement had also been drafted. But the Legislature voted to block those proposals from consideration on a 58-38 vote. So they weren’t discussed with the whole chamber.

Soon, the whole morning would be filled with rote recitation.

While I love the language of the Declaration, I think the best compromise is to leave this optional, leave it to the history and civics classes, and if a mandate is required to make the legislators feel useful and necessary, then leave the Founding documents in the language arts curriculum as part of the Common Core mandate.  We already have several required documents there.

The regular session ends today, so it is unlikely the bill will be addressed before the close of session, but I doubt we’ve heard the last of it.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Donald Trump isn’t a happy camper and is now threatening a lawsuit against the Louisiana GOP.  As you may recall, Trump won the Louisiana primary a few weeks ago, however, as I noted in my post on the election, there were a number of votes cast for candidates that had already dropped out which left those votes up for grabs.

As it turns out, Trump isn’t happy about how those delegates are being distributed.  According to KPLC:

The billionaire tweeted out Easter Sunday that he was not happy at how Louisiana delegates were divvied up, saying “lawsuit coming.”

Trump believes the process is unfair:

The executive director of the Louisiana GOP said Trump received 40 percent of the votes in the Louisiana Primary and received 40 percent of the delegates. He added the rules awarding delegates to presidential candidates on a proportional basis were adopted before Trump became a candidate for president and cannot be changed now.

New York Magazine explains it this way:

As explained in a recent Wall Street Journal report, while Trump beat Ted Cruz by 3.6 percentage points in Louisiana, the Texas senator may walk away with ten more delegates. Technically, Trump and Cruz won the same number of delegates, 18 each, but since Marco Rubio dropped out of the race, his delegates are now free agents. They’re expected to back Cruz, along with the state’s five unbound delegates. Cruz supporters also snatched up five of Louisiana’s six spots on the committees that will write the rules of the GOP convention, which could be key in determining the winner of a contested convention.

Dear Trump:  welcome to Louisiana politics.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some random observations from way down South this week.

Technically, Donald Trump won Louisiana in the primary Saturday, but my friends at The Hayride make the case that the true winner was Ted Cruz.  If you look at the Trump – Cruz gap and compare early voting to the results from Saturday’s primary, Cruz closed the gap by some 20 points on the heels of last week’s debate.

Looking at the official numbers, note also that Mike Huckabee got 645 votes; he dropped out February 2;  Jeb Bush and Ben Carson, also withdrawn, received over 6000 votes between them.  Christie got 401 votes. And interestingly, Marco Rubio showed quite poorly with only 11% of the vote.

The Hayride article is an interesting read.  Check it out.

In other notes:

Our political leadership is still in Baton Rouge in the attempt to plug our $900 million deficit gap and are closing in on the final days of their special legislative session. John Bel Edwards seems to be in way over his head but even given that, we can’t fully blame him for this budget mess.  This lies on the shoulders of Governor Bobby Jindal; Edwards may have a poor voting record that contributed to this mess, but it isn’t all his fault that we find ourselves now having to add pennies to the sales tax and threaten to shut the doors of higher education.

The proposed tax on alcohol failed its first go around last week but squeaked through in the Sunday session where it now goes to the Senate. You don’t mess with the liquor in Louisiana without upsetting some people. The one-penny sales tax was passed however, and since that worked so well, there is talk now of adding another ½-cent or another entire cent to the sales tax:

A proposal to raise Louisiana’s sales tax by not 1 but by 1½ or 2 cents instead emerged Friday as the potential solution to ending a budget crisis that threatens to cancel college classes and cut health care to the poor and the disabled.

The plan has the strong support of House Speaker Taylor Barras, who discussed it with Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday.

The beauty of the plan for the Republicans and the business lobbyists pushing it, is this: It would solve the short-term budget problem and keep lawmakers from trying to find more revenue by raising taxes on business. The plan presents a problem for Democrats, however, because raising sales taxes hits the poor the hardest.

Democrats, however, could soon be facing a choice of having to hold their nose and vote for an increase of 1½ or 2 cents of sales taxes or rejecting the idea and then seeing devastating cuts to public hospitals that serve the poor and to the state’s colleges and universities.

They are running out of time.  This Special Session must end by 6:00 p.m. on March 9.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are more than halfway through the legislative special session in Baton Rouge meant to solve the staggering $900 million state budget deficit and there does not appear to be any clear or painless way to solve the crisis.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago when I reported on the financial crisis in Louisiana which led to newly elected governor John Bel Edwards and his staff promising to close down Louisiana State University among other schools, and to halt TOPS scholarship payments for students already enrolled. Panic raced throughout the state as the legislators convened in Baton Rouge to attempt to solve the crisis.

At this point, the universities are still open (thank goodness) and Governor Edwards says TOPS scholarships will be funded through the spring but next year is dubious. Minimum requirements to earn one of these scholarships will be based on some new astronomically high ACT score.

Team Edwards has been able to push through a new one-cent sales tax which is supposed to earn the state about $210 million in new revenue and giving us the dubious distinction of having the highest combined state and local sales tax rate in the nation. Governor Edwards has also picked up about $350 million by juggling money from one fund to http://theadvocate.com/news/14991870-184/louisiana-house-advances-1-cent-sales-tax-increase another. He’s also cut the Department of Education by $44 million – because apparently education hasn’t been cut enough.

Have no fear though: there’s no longer a work requirement for welfare and Governor Edwards has expanded Medicaid.

Still to come:  a new $0.22 per pack tax on cigarettes, a new tax of “a penny or two” on beer, wine, and liquor, and several measures to remove corporate loopholes and close several corporate tax exemptions.

It’s all pretty dire and even Moody’s has downgraded our credit rating for the first time in a decade.

But for now, the lights are still on and the doors are still open here in Louisiana.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – When news broke this past Thursday that John Bel Edwards had halted all payments to the enormously popular TOPS college scholarship program, you could feel the panic and desperation throughout the state.  Thursday afternoon, February 11, word came down about the program via NOLA:

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ budget chief, Jay Dardenne, said the state will have to leave TOPS approximately $28 million short of what it would take to fully fund the program through the end of the semester. He said all public universities will be informed that they would not receive all their TOPS payment this spring.

Dardenne added that TOPS could only be fully funded this year if the Legislature agreed to raise taxes a lot — over a half a billion dollars — in the next couple of months. Even then, the Edwards administration would likely prioritize filling a shortfall in the Medicaid program before the college scholarship program would receive the money it needs.

The TOPS program began in 1989 and, in brief, it pays college tuition to in-state universities for Louisiana students who score a certain percentage on the ACT and who maintain a certain GPA. The intent was to keep our kids here in the state. Through the years the requirements have been tweaked with the GPA requirement now at 2.5 and the ACT score now at 20.  You can read more specifics here.

Now, there are a couple of things to look at in those two paragraphs from NOLA: first, Dardenne said basically that those students already enrolled in the spring semester are on the hook for the balance of the tuition they had been told would be paid through their scholarship. Literally what he said was that the colleges would “absorb” the cost of the unpaid balance.  Recall that higher education throughout the state has already been decimated by Bobby Jindal and there is no room to “absorb” anything. Students across the state went to bed Thursday night anticipating bills for the balances to hit their mailboxes any moment.

The second thing to note from that NOLA quote is that Dardenne indicated that even if the money to fund TOPS was found, it would instead go toward funding Medicaid rather than satisfying the promised TOPS debt.

Further: Just a week before the TOPS blackmail, Edwards called for an emergency special session to deal with the state’s budget shortfall and noted that a plethora of tax increases are on the table, to include:

Income tax hikes

Cigarette tax hikes

Sales tax hikes on leased property and some services

Business utility tax hikes

Alcohol tax hikes

Taxes on AirBnB and anyone else who rents out a spare room

Taxes on the oil and gas industry

In essence, what John Bel Edwards has done is use emotional blackmail on the students and families of this state for the purpose of raising taxes on everything he possibly can. Families went to sleep Thursday night in serious distress over the financial future of their child’s college education. It’s not that these people don’t want to get student loans or work their way through college – most would have been more than willing to do so, but the TOPS program had been promised to them and they scheduled every high school course with the understanding of what was required of them to earn this scholarship.  For the governor to threaten to pull the rug out from under their feet is unconscionable.

And so, the next day, word comes down that miraculously money has been found to fund TOPS through the rest of this spring semester, but next year? Not so much.  Considerations to continue the program suggest a required ACT score of 28 to earn the scholarship and cutting the funding from $250 million to $60 million – about 80% of the current scholarships would be eliminated.

As if emotional blackmail of our students wasn’t enough, Governor Edwards addressed the state on television to explain the crisis and his actions and he said that student athletes are also in danger.

Yes, he poked the sacred cow of LSU football.

He really went there.

As I mentioned earlier, if the legislature fails to act and we are forced to proceed with these cuts, the LSU Ag Center and parish extension offices in every parish, and Pennington Biomedical Research Center will close by April 1st and the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge will run out of money after April 30th, as will the Health Sciences Center in Shreveport and LSU Eunice. There is no money left for payroll after those dates. The Southern University System, and University of Louisiana System, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System are in the same boat: without legislators approving new revenue this special session, some campuses will be forced to declare financial bankruptcy, which would include massive layoffs and the cancellation of classes.

If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate and student athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester. That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.

The text of the speech can be found here.

You can only imagine the hysteria that caused. It seemed for a few moments there that we would totally implode. Never mind the kids’ scholarships!  Never mind the cuts to the New Opportunity Waiver program which helps families with developmentally disabled children, we can’t survive without football!

At the very least this damages recruiting efforts.  Who would want to sign with a university that may not have a program?

Edwards pushed every single button he could to incite fear and panic throughout the state.  Yes, it’s a real problem. We are broke.  But on the same day he also eliminated the work requirement from food stamps. Previously, recipients had to work twenty hours a week or be enrolled in a federally approved job training program.  Not anymore.

And so it didn’t take long for the recall talk to start.

There is a Facebook group, Recall John Bel Edwards, which currently has about 5,500 members. There is a Change.org petition to recall the governor established solely for the purpose of monitoring numbers and interest in a formal recall; this petition has over 14,000 signatures so far.  Over a million voters would have to sign a formal recall petition.

The bottom line is that the state is now in panic mode. Edwards said in his speech that these cuts “are not scare tactics. This is reality…” but people are scared.  Everywhere I’ve been over the past few days, you hear subdued and worried conversations about the cuts. People are angry that entitlement programs are being expanded while education is being cut.  People are angry at the emotional blackmail that if we don’t pressure our representatives to vote for the new taxes, everything will be cut. People are angry that there’s no talk of the billions in state contracts that will remain untouched.

State Treasurer John Kennedy gave the Republican response after Governor Edwards’s speech and he declared that we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. He rightly pointed out that these tax increases will wreck our fragile economy. Kennedy said he has sent over 400 ideas to the governor’s office to cut spending rather than raise taxes. In his speech, he listed six of those, which included auditing Medicaid fraud which currently exists to the tune of about $900 million dollars. He also suggested revising Medicaid so that patients stop going to the emergency room for things like acne or to see if they need glasses, or other such minor concerns that could be better handled in a doctor’s office. Kennedy also suggested cutting the statutory dedications and the 19,000 consultants currently on our payroll. He noted also that 22% of the managers in government manage only one person.

While everyone acknowledges that Jindal’s smoke and mirrors method of balancing the budget got us into this mess, nobody is willing to concede that sacrificing higher education and blackmailing our students and student athletes is a good plan. Neither is taxing everything. Republicans are going to be more willing to work with Edwards if he will at least consider cutting some of the entitlements and slashing some of the excessive spending in government.

These are dark days in Louisiana.  The special session convened yesterday and we are waiting with high anxiety to see the outcome.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.