A common refrain among some lawmakers in Baton Rouge these days is that we should “look forward” and stop blaming former Gov. Bobby Jindal for Louisiana’s unprecedented fiscal crisis. If those lawmakers were to read the latest annual report by the Legislative Auditor, they’d change their tune.
According to the auditor, the Jindal Administration failed to timely file the vast majority of statutorily required reports on more than $1 billion a year in tax incentive giveaways for fiscal years 2013 and 2014.
“We found that three of the six agencies that administer tax incentives submitted reports as of March 23, 2015. As a result, the Legislature only received information on five of the 79 tax incentives administered by these agencies,” the auditor’s report states on page 17.
“In addition, of the 79 tax incentive reports agencies were required to submit to the Legislature by March 1, 2014, 70 (89%) either were not submitted or did not comply with all of the reporting requirements. According to the Department of Revenue’s Tax Exemption Budgets, the revenue loss from tax incentives claimed in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 for which agencies provided no information or did not comply with reporting requirements totaled approximately $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.”
You read that correctly: $1.1 billion for fiscal year 2013 and $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2014.
There’s our budget deficit right there, folks.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lawsuit against the Obama Administration over Common Core is sure to excite the GOP’s red meat crowd, but at the end of the day few believe it will change anything other than the governor’s network TV schedule.
In other words, the lawsuit has already succeeded, regardless of what happens in court.
As if to drive home the point that the suit is purely political and utterly without legal merit, Jindal hired his former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, to lawyer the case — at $225 an hour, billed to Louisiana taxpayers. Faircloth has a perfect record on behalf Team Jindal in major cases; it is untarnished by victory.
Last week, Faircloth lost another round in state court on behalf of Jindal, who claims that state Education Superintendent John White and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) illegally procured Common Core testing services. In that case, a Baton Rouge judge found that Faircloth failed to produce a shred of evidence in support of the governor’s contention.
Blogger and LSU professor Bob Mann, whose columns appear in The Times-Picayune, nailed Jindal for filing a “politically motivated, frivolous lawsuit,” which he dubbed a “thinly veiled campaign document.” Such comments by Mann, an unabashed liberal and consistent Jindal critic, are not surprising, but when they sync with observations by conservative think tanks, it’s worth noting.
“I don’t think this lawsuit has a lot of merit,” Michael Brickman, national policy director for the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said in the T-P. The newspaper also quoted Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, who said, kindheartedly, “I do think it will be kind of an uphill battle.”
Truth is, if Jindal were sincere about wanting to end Common Core, he would have backed legislative efforts to repeal it earlier this year. Instead, he did virtually nothing. Why? Because deep down, Jindal wants — needs — to keep Common Core alive as a campaign issue. I don’t know who should be angrier with him — supporters or opponents of Common Core.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s politically motivated attacks against the Common Core educational standards have become so heavy handed that even some of his traditional allies are calling him out. Until recently, Jindal ranked among the leading supporters of Common Core.
The governor changed his position after the state’s rollout of Common Core last year. Many students, teachers and parents complained that the new curricula were confusing, even controversial. That led to a groundswell on the far right, which was all it took to get Jindal to switch sides.
Anti-Common Core forces were all set to wage war on the initiative during the spring legislative session, but Jindal was a no-show each time a bill to weaken or kill the program came up. (That spoke volumes about the sincerity of Jindal’s newfound opposition.) After the session ended, he tried to gut the initiative administratively — and unilaterally — by going after the standardized test that is part of the Common Core program.
The governor claimed the state Board of Elementary and Second Education (BESE), which is constitutionally empowered to set education policy, failed to follow proper procurement procedures in buying the so-called PARCC test. That test was set to be used this academic year, which begins in a few weeks. With great fanfare, Jindal issued an executive order instructing his underlings not to pay for the test, arguing it was purchased illegally. That created a constitutional standoff with BESE — and threw Louisiana public education into disarray on the eve of the coming school year.
Jindal met last week with state Education Superintendent John White to discuss the impasse, to no avail. White, like most BESE members, supports Common Core. After the meeting, the governor’s top aide told reporters that Jindal’s main concern is Louisiana’s “history of public corruption” — a thinly veiled accusation that BESE and White broke the law in buying the PARCC test.
That caused even some of Jindal’s allies to gag.
Hours after a visibly humbled Ray Nagin took his post-conviction perp walk from the federal courthouse, I had the privilege of sitting down with the guy who actually uncovered the steaming pile of dung that became the case of United States of America v. C. Ray Nagin.
His name is Jason Berry. No, not that Jason Berry (the novelist and op-ed contributor). This is Jason Berry the blogger.
That’s right, a blogger broke open this scandal, on a blog called American Zombie (www.theamericanzombie.com). TV and newspaper reporters have crowed about their “scoops” on this story, but the truth is no one had it before Berry. His work continues on other investigative fronts, but he took time out to chat with me about the Nagin verdict.
Did you feel an element of schadenfreude when the verdict came down? If not, what was your initial reaction?
No. I honestly didn’t feel vindicated in any way. In fact, I felt a little aggravated because I couldn’t wrap my head around the efforts of the defense. I suppose it’s my Catholic upbringing that seeks redemption for even a narcissist like Ray Nagin. There were so many things that could have been addressed in this trial but weren’t. I felt like it was a McDefense instead of the Brigtsen’s five-course meal that it should have been. Having said that, I don’t think there is any way to argue with credit card statements, checks, and bank statements, which leads me to wonder why Nagin had [defense attorney Robert] Jenkins take the case to trial in the first place. I do think Nagin’s prosecution and conviction are important for our city, though, and overall I’m relieved it actually happened.
You were onto this scandal long before anyone else in the media, yet you got very little credit for that. How did that make you feel as you watched the trial?
I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. I sat through about 70 percent of the trial and I watched other journalists being praised by the prosecution for at least a few stories I know I broke, namely the granite deal between Stone Age and Cornerstone, the HSOA subsidiary, and the existence of the credit card Meffert was using under Netmethods’ name. Perhaps I’m taking it too personally, but I think there was an effort to diminish my role by both the prosecution and other journalistic entities. From the prosecution side I understand that the last word they wanted coming up in this trial was “blogger” in the wake of the commenting scandal, but on the journalistic side it’s tough to read commentary that dismisses and diminishes the work on the blog. Yes, much of my work was sourced anonymously, but this is not uncommon in journalistic endeavors, and ultimately the accuracy of the work should speak for itself. I’m a big defender of anonymity, but I suppose that’s another argument altogether.
U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan ordered Nagin to home detention. Sentencing will be in Berrigan's courtroom June 11 at 9 a.m.
Below the jump: the statement from U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite's office.
If the verdict in former Mayor Ray Nagin’s federal corruption trial brings closure to a sad, sordid chapter of post-Katrina New Orleans, the trial reminded us all of the four dysfunctional years of Nagin’s second term.
The government put on a solid case. Lead prosecutor Matt Coman mapped out a narrative in his opening statement and then produced 26 witnesses and reams of documents to support it. That’s what good lawyers do: they begin by telling a story and then they promise to prove it from the witness stand. If they fail to keep that promise, they lose the case. Coman kept his promise.
When prosecutors put on a strong case, the burden shifts — not legally but practically — to the defense. Instead of presenting an alternate narrative, Nagin’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, simply tried to spin the government’s facts with a handful of witnesses who generally did not hold up well under cross-examination.
Jenkins closed with Nagin himself, who delivered a tour-de-force reprise of his role as the city’s narcissist-in-chief. Some courtroom observers painted him as arrogant; others said he was just trying to be charming. I wasn’t there, but as I followed his testimony online and talked about it with courtroom observers, I think what jurors saw was Nagin trying to be charming — in his hallmark above-it-all sort of way. On his final day on the stand, Nagin also played the victim card. Several times, particularly when Coman produced documents to discount the former mayor’s testimony that he took no bribes, Nagin shrugged and said, “It was post-Katrina.”
By CLANCY DuBOS and JOE RASPANTI
Former Mayor Ray Nagin’s federal trial on 21 public corruption charges was postponed again last week — for the third time. The former mayor is now set to stand trial on Jan. 27, 2014. If and when Nagin does go to trial — or if he pleads to a reduced charge — it will be the final chapter of Hurricane Katrina’s political arc.
Guilty or innocent, Nagin’s fate will bring closure to a city that arguably suffered as much after the storm as during it, thanks in large measure to the former mayor’s failure to implement a recovery program with any traction.
Nagin faces six counts of bribery, one count of conspiracy, one count of money laundering, nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. All of those are major felonies, which means Nagin faces a lot of jail time, even if he’s convicted on just one or two counts.
Federal prosecutors often pile on charges, sometimes adding one or two “minor” counts. In addition to having evidence of multiple crimes, prosecutors use the threat of lengthy jail time to leverage guilty pleas to lesser crimes with reduced sentences. At the end of the day, a win is a win.
Earlier this week, for example, former St. Tammany Parish Coroner Peter Galvan pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to steal money from the coroner’s office, which carries a maximum sentence of five years. That’s serious jail time, but it’s a lot less than Galvan might have drawn had he gone to trial facing multiple counts of public corruption.
In Nagin’s case, a conviction on all 21 counts would send him to jail for a very long time, possibly longer than the 17-plus years given to Mark St. Pierre, the former City Hall tech vendor who rolled the dice and went to trial on 53 bribery counts rather than accept a plea deal. St. Pierre was convicted on all 53 counts. Now he’s anxious to testify against Nagin, hoping it will get him a reduction in sentence.
If convicted of even one count, all of the other counts against Nagin would still factor into his sentence as “relevant conduct” under the federal sentencing guidelines. The former mayor thus faces a lengthy prison term for any conviction — and the fact that he was a public official at the time of his alleged crimes enhances his potential jail time.
Four years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal hoodwinked lawmakers, the public and most of the Louisiana Press Association into supporting legislation that he uses to keep virtually all his administration’s records from public view. He also uses his enormous power to prevent that law from being overturned or narrowed.
The 2009 law, which Jindal cynically proclaimed a “transparency bill,” is a prime example of the old wisdom that the devil is in the details. It contains an Orwellian provision that allows anything deemed part of the governor’s “deliberative process” to remain secret. Under the law, Team Jindal gets to “deem” as liberally as it pleases.
Turns out Jindal loves to keep lots of things secret, particularly details about himself and his policies.
Since 2009, the Jindal Administration, including departments that are not even part of “the governor’s office,” have hidden behind the “deliberative process” scrim every time someone files a bothersome public records request. It’s why Jindal is widely known as the least transparent governor in America. More important, it makes it next to impossible for an average citizen, or even a news organization, to pry public information out of Louisiana’s executive branch.
Now that the feds are investigating the Jindal Administration for possible criminal violations relating to the hiring of a Maryland contractor, CNSI, to process the state’s Medicaid claims, it’s becoming clear why Bobby Jindal likes to keep things secret. Former state Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who previously worked for CNSI, pushed through changes to the bid solicitation that helped his former employer win the state contract.
Surprised? Don’t be.
Details about those rule changes, how they came about, and when, are precisely the kind of things that Team Jindal typically deems “part of the governor’s deliberative process.”
Lucky for us, that dodge doesn’t cut it with the feds. They have subpoenas. The rest of us, sadly, have to rely on Louisiana’s public records laws, which, thanks to Jindal, have been eviscerated.
That could change. State lawmakers are considering at least two bills to remove the “deliberative process” loophole. You can bet the governor will once again pull out all the stops to kill both measures — but there’s hope this year. Because Jindal is now even less popular in Louisiana than President Barack Obama, perhaps lawmakers will muster the courage to correct the grave error they committed in 2009.
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