Friday, January 20, 2017

STRAIGHTENING OUT LOUISIANA’S FINANCIAL WOES!


Thursday, January 19th, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

 STRAIGHTENING OUT LOUISIANA’S FINANCIAL WOES!

We hear from the national news that the country has become polarized over the election of Donald Trump.  But if you want to see real division in government, just take a gander down South to the Bayou State.  Republicans have been trying to pull the political rug out from Governor John Bel Edwards at every turn from day one.  And efforts to undermine the new governor do not show any sign of slowing down soon.

Edwards got a hint of the rough waters ahead when his handpicked candidate for speaker of the house was soundly rejected in favor of a Republican alternative.  Then, facing huge deficits left over from the Jindal administration, the legislature only gave the Governor half a loaf of the new revenue needed to fill the state’s financial gap.  The state is facing a $320 million shortfall for this fiscal year, but there is little legislative interest in raising new taxes.

Cut, cut, cut is the Republican rallying cry.  And cuts in many programs will no doubt take place.  The state is certainly not at any bare-bones spending level. After all, the budget just two years ago was $22.6 billion. This fiscal year, the same budget has jumped up to $26.9 billion. And I can tell you first hand that there is always room for cutting back.

I was a statewide elected official in Louisiana for twenty years, and every year, just like all the other state agencies, I pleaded for more tax dollars.  But you know what?  If my budget was ever cut by five to ten percent, I could find ways to slash and the public services wouldn’t drop a bit.  Every agency in government has a press secretary and an assistant press secretary. Are they really needed?  How about the legislature insisting on performance audits on every agency in government to be sure the taxpayer is really getting their money’s worth.

And a little cooperation among the state’s elected officials would help.  Our new U.S. Senator, John Kennedy, continued his attacks on the Governor for not spending federal dollars for flood recovery soon enough.  This knock is a bit lame since the feds have only given Louisiana a small part of the recovery funds it needs, and the holdup, as is usually the case, looks to be out of Washington.

Attorney General Jeff Landry seems to have a daily spasm eager to confront Edwards on a number of issues.  Landry, by the way, has strapped on his six-gun and is trolling the state making arrests for any number of crimes, even though the constitution gives no arrest power to the AG.  But what’s a little thing like a constitutional prohibition?

The Governor has some options, particularly considering that the state gives away over a billion dollars a year in special tax breaks.  But how many are really that necessary, and is the state getting its money’s worth?

So, as I wrote a few years ago, why not just go back to square one? The legislature, without any direction from the new governor, could go into a special session, either with the governor’s support or on their own, and re-build a financial plan for taxing and spending from scratch. Why have a knockdown, drag-out fight over what funding to cut or what exemption to preserve? Just let the legislature do its job with a clean slate and no “locked in” spending requirements.

Back in 1973, I was an elected delegate to the constitutional convention and served as co-chairman, along with former governor Buddy Roemer, of the revenue and finance committee of the convention. After months of discussion, we directed that the legislature assume the constitutional responsibility of determining year in and year out just how state funds were to be spent. No special exemptions. No advantages or money protection for any one group.

But little by little, the legislature bowed to the whims of special interest groups and allowed constitutional amendments that limited the legislature’s ability to prioritize spending. So here is what needs to happen. The legislature in its coming spring session, should deal just with Article 7 of the constitution. Eliminate all dedicated funding for any special interest. It would take just one constitutional amendment to be considered by the voters next year.

The Governor this week took a break from dealing with Louisiana’s financial crisis and is visiting with the Pope in Rome. Unfortunately, it will take more than a papal blessing to get the state’s fiscal house in order.  A prayer would help, but amending the constitution would be a good beginning.

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It is a popular delusion that the government wastes vast amounts of money through inefficiency and sloth. Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money.”


Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.





Friday, January 13, 2017

NEW GIMMICK TO RAISE TAXES IN LOUISIANA!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

NEW GIMMICK TO RAISE TAXES IN LOUISIANA!

You would think that in the New Year, following a year when the Louisiana legislature raised taxes by over one billion dollars, lawmakers would sense the public’s anti-tax fervor and be averse to mining every nook and cranny for more taxes.  But now Governor John Bel Edwards, with full legislative support and in a desperate attempt to send more revenue to state coffers, is quite willing to stick purchasers with sales taxes for whatever they buy online.

Taxing online purchases undermines the fairness of why sales taxes, or any taxes for that matter, are collected in the first place. These taxes are put into law for the purpose of funding a wide variety of government programs and services. The benefits accrue to the local taxpayer. A storeowner who collects a sales tax gets something in return. There is police and fire protection, roads and other governmental services that benefit both buyer and seller.  Not so when a purchase is made online. The Internet seller derives no benefit from state and local government when such seller lives in another state.

It’s not that the Internet seller is free from paying a variety of taxes. In their home state, they are assessed with income, property, sales, user fees, permit fees, and a variety of other taxes. And they get local and state governmental services in return. Yet Democrats and Republicans alike now want to impose an additional burden of making a company selling over the Internet figure out the tax rate, not just in every state, but in every county, parish, city and local taxing district in the country.

This writer has a small Louisiana based publishing company, which takes orders from states across the country. Under this new bipartisan taxing plan, my small business will now be forced to figure up the specific sales tax in every locality from wherever we might receive an order. Figuring out and applying this myriad of tax rates, in itself, is an additional unwarranted cost to the seller, which ultimately comes out of the consumer’s pocket as well. Never mind the lack of fairness or how smart is it to add another stress to small businesses in our already over-stressed economy.

There will be no such burden on in-state businesses.  Do you think your local laundry or gift shop, located just a few blocks away, but in a different taxing district, will agree to obtain your address, determine the applicable tax for each customer, then collect the tax and send it into the state? Good luck!

The big guys like Amazon and Apple can handle these additional costs. In fact, Amazon is proposing charging a fee of 2.9% on its third-party vendors just to figure up what taxes need to be collected. So this would be even more costs piled on small businesses and their customers.

Some Republicans are even suggesting that the taxes be collected and remitted by the federal government. So much for states being the “laboratories of democracy” and protecting “states rights.”

Let me tell you just how far this new bipartisan tax mania has gone. The state of Illinois is now proposing that its own citizens will be taxed when they buy from out-of-state sellers.  So let’s suppose an Illinois resident decides that he or she wants to send their own money out of state.  Under the proposed plan, they must pay a tax. No, let’s call it what it is – this is not a tax — this is outright confiscation.

States across the country are facing major financial crisis. But governors and legislatures have irresponsibly piled on unsustainable pension and other borrowing obligations. A tax on Internet spending is simply a gimmick for the purpose of filling state and local coffers with no benefit to those paying and collecting such taxes.  Republicans and Democrats, alike, are caving in to the allure of new revenue. And we taxpayers are the big losers.

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“Read my lips: no new taxes.”   George H.W. Bush

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.






Wednesday, January 04, 2017

IT’S CRUNCH TIME FOR JOHN BEL EDWARDS!


Thursday, January 5th, 2017
Linville, North Carolina

IT’S CRUNCH TIME FOR JOHN BEL EDWARDS!

The honeymoon may be just beginning for President-Elect Donald Trump, but any such love fest has come to an abrupt end for Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards.  2016 was a year the new governor would like to forget, but things don’t look a lot better for 2017.  In fact, it could become a lot worse.

Edwards had barely been sworn into office when the downhill slide began.  He was the first Louisiana governor in memory who was not able to name his Speaker of the House, as Republican legislators firmly rejected the governor’s handpicked choice.  Then Edwards was faced with a budget deficit, created by overspending by the previous Jindal administration, of over one billion dollars.  A massive tax increase was not the way he wanted to begin his new administration.

His problems continued to mount in his first year with catastrophes over shootings by the police and of the police in the Baton Rouge area, followed by massive flooding in 20 parishes throughout central and south Louisiana.  The new governor just couldn’t get a break.  And he now enters a new year facing an additional $313 million budget hole.

Besides the mounting problems at home, John Bel faced the difficulty of being the only Democratic governor in the deep South, and leading a state made up of an overwhelming number of Republican elected officials.  And he received scant support from the national Democratic Party. Clinton went down in defeat for President. The Governor had to all but deny his democratic lineage, as he tried not to be tagged by a national party that appeared to be more concerned as to where some people go to the bathroom than in offering solutions to the economic crisis faced by millions of blue collar Americans.

The Governor is being naive if he thinks he will not face strong and well-financed Republican opposition in 2019.  The state Republican Party chairman began the new year by blasting Edwards for failing to offer a plan required by the federal government as to how some one billion dollars in federal flood aid will be spent by the state.  And these Republican attacks will continue.

Edwards is aggressively raising campaign dollars, which is certainly important.  But so far, he has failed to show any interest in building a campaign organization through the present Democratic Party.  The current Democratic leadership seems almost in slumber mold, showing virtually no presence outside of New Orleans, and rarely challenging actions by Republicans working against the Governor. After the governor was attacked on the flood relief issue a few days ago, there was nary a peep from the state Democratic Party.

Perhaps you can’t blame the Governor from being a bit leery of the state party leadership.  After all, stare party chairman Karen Petersen and former U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu tried their best to talk Edwards out of running in the first place.  Their clandestine efforts are all outlined in the new book, “Long Shot,” published by The Lisburn Press.

The Governor is stuck with being a Democrat, so he ought to maximize what could be an opportunity.  Yes, the party is stagnant and has done little grassroots organization throughout the state.  But he still is the top dog in the party and could quickly take it over, make some heads roll, raise campaign dollars to support his efforts, and have a coordinate backup machine for both his legislative and political agendas.

Past governors have shied away from asserting control over their respective party apparatus.  But 2019 will present a different scenario.  Edwards will not have numerous Republican candidates beating each other up and scandals he can point to as he did to get elected.  He will have to run on what he will have accomplished facing an obstinate Republican opposition, and probably one well-financed Republican opponent.

If the governor waits until 2018, he will be too late.  It takes time to put together a viable grassroots organization.  The coming year will be crunch time for John Bel Edwards. It’s anybody’s guess as to how he will respond.

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When did the future switch from being a promise to being a threat?” ― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters


Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.









Wednesday, December 28, 2016

NEW YEAR THOUGHTS FROM THE BAYOU STATE!


Baton Rouge, Louisiana

NEW YEAR THOUGHTS FROM THE BAYOU STATE!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I always do.  A New Year always brings with it promise and uncertainty, but this coming year brings with it a greater foreboding than we have experienced in the past.  The Chinese have a saying: "May you live in interesting times." But their definition means dangerous or turbulent. We in Louisiana and throughout America certainly live in “interesting” times today.

Like many of you, our family welcomes in the New Year with “Auld Lang Syne.”  It’s an old Scotch tune, with words passed down orally, and recorded by my favorite historical poet, Robert Burns, back in the 1700s.  (I’m Scottish, so there’s a bond here.) “Auld Lang Syne,” literally means “old long ago,” or simply, “the good old days.”  Did you know this song is sung at the stroke of midnight in almost every English-speaking country in the world to bring in the New Year?

I can look back over many years of memorable New Year’s Eve celebrations.  In recent years, my wife and I have joined a gathering of family and friends in New Orleans at Antoine’s Restaurant in the French Quarter.  Our private party normally clusters in the Rex Room for dinner that includes an array of seafood appetizers (oysters, shrimp and crabmeat) and flaming Baked Alaska for dessert.  Yes, a number of champagne-filled toasts take place with an occasional family member dancing on the table. After dinner, we make a stop at St. Louis Cathedral for a blessing of the New Year.  Then it’s off to join the masses for the New Year’s countdown to midnight in Jackson Square.

When my daughters were quite young, we spent a number of New Year holidays at a family camp on Davis Island, in the middle of the Mississippi River some 30 miles below Vicksburg.  On several occasions, the only people there were my family and Bishop Charles P. Greco, who was the Catholic Bishop for central and north Louisiana.  Bishop Greco had baptized all three of my daughters and had been a family friend for years.  And he did love to deer hunt.

On many a cold and rainy morning, the handful of us at the camp would rise before dawn for the Bishop to conduct a New Year’s Mass.  After the service, most of the family went back to bed.  I would crank up my old jeep, and take the Bishop out in the worst weather with hopes of putting him on a stand where a large buck would pass.  No matter what the weather, he would stay all morning with his shotgun and thermos of coffee.  He rarely got a deer, but oh how he loved to be there in the woods.  Now I’m not a Catholic, but he treated me as one of his own.

One of the most fulfilling and rewarding projects I undertook in my Louisiana state senate days was to help Bishop Greco fund and build the St. Mary’s Residential and Training School for children with developmental disabilities in Alexandria.  He was a great mentor and friend who touched the lives of so many.  He died in 1987, and I will always think of him as the New Year begins.

New Year’s Day means lots of football, but I also put on my chef’s apron.  I’m well regarded in the kitchen around my household if I say so myself. My annual menu includes cooking up black-eyed peas as well as cabbage and corn bread.   And don’t bet I won’t find the dime in the peas.  After all, I’m going to put it there.

I’ll be back next week with my customary views that are cantankerous, opinionated, inflammatory, slanted, and always full of vim and vigor. Sometimes, to a few, even a bit fun to read.  In the meantime, Happy New Year to you, your friends and all of your family.   See you next year.

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“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year’s resolution.”
 Joey Adams

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.