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Opinion

‘Yes, Virginia, there is a recession, and the Legislature must take account of it.’ Jeff David column.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012 

the livingston parish news

Rain and tears at the Legislature “So it must be raindrops; so many raindrops; feels like ray-ain-drops, falling from my eye-eyes, falling from my eyes.” –Jeremy P. Felton and Michael Schultz

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he title lyrics from the hit song sung by Dee ways Clark reached number and means two on the Pop charts and Jeff M. David three on the R&Bs in the fall of 1961 just about the time I was learning the craft of the 3-4 defensive end/tackle and trying to figure out how to ask a girl out on a date. Never got particularly good at either endeavor, but I do remember the song quite vividly, including the thunderous introductory sound effects that always signaled to the guys a slow dance was coming. Funny how the tune seems arrive in the conscious portion of my brain every year about this time as the Louisiana Legislature begins shifting its collective beady eyes toward what has become known as “the rainy day fund.” The “rainy day fund” is a creature put into the Louisiana Constitution during the Roemer administration (1988-92). It was one of several good government fiscal moves during those four years that remain safely inscribed inside the people’s document, presumably stowed away beyond grabby legislative hands. The intention behind the fund is to use certain revenues, mostly excess oil and gas taxes, to put away for use during times of fiscal emergency (rainy days). The problem comes when it’s time to define “rainy.” In the Dee Clark hit, written by two songwriters who have been apparently lost to history, tears are mistaken for raindrops. The fact of the matter is that in every legislative session there will be more demand for money than there is money available. Truly, it can be said that it’s raining every year in Baton Rouge. There are certainly tears falling every year in Baton

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editorial

Government & capitalists

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hat do Hawker Beechcraft, the Football Network and a defunct sugar mill in Lacassine have in common? They are all enterprises seriously wooed or invested in by state government. Hawker Beechcraft, a Wichita, Kansas, based aircraft manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday after failing to negotiate a restructuring of its debt. Less than a year and a half ago, our state government offered this company nearly $150 million in taxpayer incentives to relocate to Louisiana. Taxpayers were fortunate the company said no. Taxpayers were less fortunate in the case of the Football Network, an ill-fated cable enterprise launched with great fanfare in 2003 to be headquartered in Baton Rouge due to a $21 million investment from the state. The taxpayers lost all of that investment long before the operation went belly-up in 2009. Turns out, both the NFL and ESPN had ambitions for similar cable programming and a lot more staying power. Who knew? Apparently, not the bureaucrats and politicians who fancied themselves as big deal makers. Yet these stories pale next to the $72 million the state spent on a sugar mill in Lacassine that opened in 2006 and closed within four months. The insider deal for politically connected agribusiness interests was subject of a critical audit released last week. The project was put together by former state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom without any real due diligence other than the good ole boy promises that it would create jobs and support farmers. After $18 million in cost overruns, the mill opened to half the business once projected for it. We mention these intrepid investments to underscore the difference between capitalists and government. Capitalists risk their own money (most of the time). Government risks yours. Capitalists take risks. Capitalists who fail take consequences (unless they get bailed out by government.) It is one thing for this state or any jurisdiction within to have ambassadors who recruit businesses and look for ways to facilitate their coming/staying/expanding. It is something else for them to get into the tricky game of picking winners and losers. Ask investors in the Obama administration darling, Solyndra.

Capitalists risk their own money. Government risks yours.

Rouge, tears that cry out for the funding of some noble cause. Or perhaps a cause not so noble. As is the custom in Louisiana, Governor Jindal and his worthy staff sent down a proposed state budget to the House where money bills must begin. The budget reflected cuts in almost every area of state funding. Then just as the session began, the Revenue Estimating Conference, another Roemer era invention, projected a revenue shortfall for the coming fiscal year of a little over $250 million for the stated reason that the initial budget had overestimated state income tax receipts. In other words, yes, Virginia, there is a recession out there in Louisiana, and the Legislature must take account of it. The “accounting” could assume the form of a further cut in selected state agencies, or a robbing of the rainy day fund, or a combination of both. The Jindal coterie sent down an amended budget reflecting cuts sufficient to make up for the $250 million shortfall in revenues. Over the moaning and groaning of Jindal-appointed committee chairmen in the House, the amended budget showing just cuts and no use of the rainy day fund will probably pass that distinguished body with a comfortable margin. If history is any indication, Jindal’s legions will find their problems waiting for them in the state Senate which in the past has shown a much greater tendency to declare a rainfall outside and use the rainy day money for general fund expenses. That normally results in throwing the entire HB1, the budget under which the state operates, into a closed-door Conference Committee where leaders of the Senate and House will hammer out something Jindal is willing to sign. Or not willing to sign, as the case might be. In Louisiana, a

Governor is required to sign only a budget that is in balance. If a budget is sent to him with deficit spending, or with spending out of the rainy day fund which he opposes, he has the power of the lineitem veto. This allows him to pick and choose the funding he wants, vetoing enough along the way to bring the entire budget into balance. By sending down an amended budget with only cuts in it and no rainy day fund spending, Jindal’s brain trust, such as it is, has adroitly placed the Governor in a position of plausible deniability. Plausible deniability means that before you do something devious, you’d better think up a believable story to cover for what you’re about to do. Regardless of the shape and form of the budget that emerges from Conference Committee and finds its way to Jindal’s desk, the Governor can claim with a straight and sober face that he refused to raise taxes, and he refused to tap the rainy day fund. See? He’s a true fiscal conservative. He’s also managed to box in the Senate and throw the entire issue of defining “rainy day” into their hands. Any budget sent by the Legislature that is balanced only by declaring rain will be subject to Jindal’s line-item veto. Such a result amounts to an abdication by the Legislature of its power of the purse, and a handing over of that power to the Executive branch. Bobby Jindal may not be able to walk on water, but he can control whether its raining or not. Jeff M. David is the Publisher of The Livingston Parish News.

A little PR for the networks

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ne way of getting to know someone is to observe what friends he chooses. With that in mind, some very interesting tidbits about the American television news media came to light last week through … al Qaida. Turns out, Osama bin Laden or his henchmen hated Fox and liked MSNBC (until it fired Keith Olbermann). They respected CBS and ABC, but didn’t trust CNN. We know this because of some declassified documents on the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s killing that show that his radical Islamic terror organization, among its other activities, was into public relations. Just before Navy Seals took down Public Enemy No. 1, he was engaged in ongoing planning of a special PR push in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of 9/11, which he never lived to see. (After witnessing the recent emphasis our President has put on his role in killing the enemy with whom his name happens to rhyme, I can’t wait to see Obama’s PR plans for the upcoming commemoration of No. 11.) Prior to his death, Osama bin Laden corresponded with his minions about the relative value to al Qaida in using certain U.S. television news organizations to spread its message. He apparently preferred CBS, which he considered “close to being unbiased.” It appears highly unlikely he would have much good to say about Fox. One of his American-born advisers, Adam Gadahn, described Fox News as a channel in the “abyss” that should “die in anger.” CNN, it turns out, is thought of as too close to the U.S. government and the once-promising MSNBC lost its lustre when it dumped class clown Keith Olbermann for violating a well-understood ethical standard of remaining politically neutral. Well, it used to be a standard. (In MSNBC’s defense, it turns out Olbermann is too pompous even for the Al Gore network.) The U.S. military’s Combating Terrorism Center made available to the public Thursday such internal information from al Qaida’s intercepted communiques. Bin Laden, I am certain, considered himself as more than a minor historical figure, but he certainly knew that his biggest hit to date, which the jihadists refer to as the “Manhattan Battle,” falls far short of his goal to establish a modern Caliphate. “We need to benefit from this event and get our messages to the Muslims and celebrate the victory that they achieved,” bin Laden wrote to his underlings. “We need to restore their confidence in their nation and motivate them. We should also present our just cause to the world, especially to the European people.” Naturally bin Laden’s first choice to deliver such a message was the ever-faithful

Al-Jazeera network, but he wondered openly whether an American channel like CBS (because it is unbiased, of course) might also be a willing vessel of propaganda. The message would somehow cast the terror network as courageous patriots struggling against an pIECE OF imperialistic superpower MIND guilty of invading Arab Mike Dowty lands to subjugate their people for oil. According to that theory, our nation should be rich and prosperous even by yesterday’s standards, not on the brink of bankruptcy. Alas, we have sunk trillions into the rat holes Osama would kill us for occupying. Where’s all the cheap oil? Al Qaida strategists discussed not only networks, but individual journalists that might be approached. One in particular, the British reporter Robert Fisk of the Independent, was thought to be someone willing to spread the word that Westerners should leave those al Qaida sorts alone and concentrate instead on the really big causes that matter, like saving the planet from global warming. (Should we tell them that global warming is attributed to the burning of fossil fuels, often purchased from Saudi Arabia, through which al Qaida raises its capital?) “This is a chance to explain our motives for continuing the war,” bin Laden wrote. “The wise people would tell you to give people their rights in order to be able to focus on other vital issues such as global warming. They have the option to stop the war, but we do not have any option, except to defend our nation. This is a conflict between the biggest cultures in the world at a time when the climate is changing rapidly.” If this is how al Qaida views mainstream media and its star journalists in the West, is it any wonder that many typical citizens are leery of the networks and don’t trust their message. Not that I think any decent reporter is going to be swayed with admonitions to forget about terrorism and think about global warming instead. Curious that the one famous commentator I know who has been most steadfast in his denunciation of U.S. policies in the Middle East — Patrick Buchanan — isn’t mentioned. Nor does al Qaida single out Ron Paul as a potential friend of its cause. Their stands against interventionism are made out of love for America, not sympathy for jihadis. Instinctively our enemies know that whatever dupes are to be found out there will be found on the left, not the right. Mike Dowty is managing editor of the Livingston Parish News.


May 6 Ways and Means