All posts by Mark Ballard

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal has jury duty

Carrying a sack lunch and reading material, former Gov. Bobby Jindal is reporting this week for jury duty in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District Court.

bobby jindal, louisiana,

Gov. Bobby Jindal appears on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in July.

As of Wednesday morning, Jindal had not been chosen to hear a trial, according to an aide. His service began Tuesday morning.

Hundreds of prospective jurors  serve the week and wait in the courthouse until selected to hear a trial. Prospective jurors in East Baton Rouge Parish are chosen at random from voter registration and drivers’ license lists.

The former governor, who left office last week, now lives in a subdivision off Nicholson Drive in south Baton Rouge.

Joseph Bouie elected chairman of Legislative Black Caucus

The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus elected New Orleans Rep. Joseph Bouie Jr. as its chairman for 2016-2017.

Rep. Joseph Bouie

Rep. Joseph Bouie

Rep. Randal Gaines, D-LaPlace was elected vice chairman.

With 30 members the Black Caucus is one of the largest groups in the Legislature.

Bouie, 69, is a retired administrator at Southern University New Orleans.

Louisiana Senate announces committee assignments

Louisiana Senate President John Alario, a Republican, named two Democrats to chair the upper chambers two powerful “money” committees.

State Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, left, applauds state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, during the Senate Committee on Finance meeting May 16, 2013, at the Louisiana State Capitol.

State Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-St. Martinville, left, applauds state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, during the Senate Committee on Finance meeting May 16, 2013, at the Louisiana State Capitol.

Sen. Eric LaFleur, of Ville Platte, was tapped to run the Finance Committee, through which the state budget is vetted. New Orleans Sen. J.P. Morrell is to head Revenue & Fiscal Affairs, which hears tax measures and oversees the “capital outlay” –through which projects special to individual legislators are determined.

LaFleur, who works as a lawyer in Lafayette, was the minority leader in the GOP-dominated upper chamber, while Gov. John Bel Edwards held the same position in the House.  He will have the help of the Republican chairmen who  last year weaved through the various obstacles put up by former Gov. Bobby Jindal to shepherd the current year’s budget. Mandeville Republican Sen. Jack Donahue, who had chaired Senate Finance, and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, a Jonesboro Republican who was selected state senator, both are serving Finance, along with Metairie Republican Conrad Appel, who chaired the Senate Education in last year’s Legislature.

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans

Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans

Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, takes over Senate Education and Sen. Fred Mills Jr., R-Parks, will chair the Senate Health & Welfare Committee.

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said he hopes to name his committee chairmen in the next couple weeks.

The full assignments are below:  Continue reading

Bodi White named La. chairman for Marco Rubio’s campaign

Central Sen. Bodi White will be tapped Monday to chair Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s campaign in Louisiana.

“Marco Rubio is the next generation leader we can count on to unite the party and stick to his conservative principles,” White said in a prepared statement Sunday night about Florida U.S. Sen. Rubio’s bid to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, at the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Oct. 30, 2015

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD — State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, at the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget on Oct. 30, 2015

Fourteen Republicans and 10 Democrats have submitted the necessary paperwork and paid $1,025 each in filing fees to participate in Louisiana’s March 5 presidential primary.

The Rubio campaign has campaign chairmen in all 50 states.

White was reelected last fall to a second term in the Louisiana Senate, representing suburban Baton Rouge communities along the Amite River, across parts of St Helena and into Tangipahoa Parish. Before his election to the upper chamber, White represented parts of East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes from 2004 to 2012.

marco rubio fundraising new orleans

In this Sept. 16, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif. (AP)

Referring to Rubio’s parents, who immigrated from Cuba in 1956, White said, “Marco’s parents sacrificed much to give him a better tomorrow, and he understands the daily struggles of working families better than any other candidate in the race. Marco has a plan to create more jobs and opportunity for all, and as more people across the country hear his message they are drawn to his optimistic vision for our nation’s future.”

Gov Elect Edwards names cabinet members

Gov.-Elect John Bel Edwardsalmost 

filled out his cabinet Wednesday naming the heads of two of state government’s largest agencies.His nominees include a Jindal administration cabinet secretary to run the prisons and a promotion for another top official in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s state Department of Health and Hospitals.

He tapped Dr. Rebekah E. Gee, who teaches Health Policy and Management at LSU and is the state Medicaid Medical Director. Escalating costs of Medicaid, the government insurance program for that covers about 1.4 million Louisiana residents, is one the key issues the Edwards administration will have to tackle.

Edwards also promised to expand the Medicaid qualifications to allow access for people who make too much to join the government program, but not enough to buy insurance on their own.

DHH has 19 agencies, about 7,000 employees and a budget of $9.7 billion to provide services – in addition to Medicaid patients – for the mentally ill, developmentally disabled, the elderly and the addicted as well as public health and medical services under Medicaid.

Jimmy LeBlanc is one of the only cabinet-level holdover from the Jindal administration and one of the few secretaries that served out Gov. Bobby Jindal’s entire term. He had been the acting chief of operations at the Department of Public Safety and Corrections when tapped by Jindal.

LeBlanc oversees 11 prisons and some law enforcement agencies.

LeBlanc is a close friend and business partner of Burl Cain. The 73-year-old was warden of the nation’s largest maximum-security prison, by landmass, until Cain resigned in December under the cloud of an investigation into his business activities.

Cain is the target of a criminal investigation by the Inspector General’s Office and the State Police with the cooperation of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. The Louisiana Legislative Auditor also is looking into Cain’s business arrangements.

In November, The Advocate reported Cain, who served as head of the storied penitentiary for two decades, did real estate deals with family and friends of two inmates who, during their sentences at Angola, were offered favorable treatment not available to most offenders. The transactions appeared to go against corrections rules prohibiting “nonprofessional relationships.”

Rookie Rep pressured on House Speaker vote

She hasn’t been sworn in yet, but Rep.-Elect Stephanie Hilferty already is facing a recall petition from fellow Republicans.

Hilferty, a commercial real estate agent, is the latest Louisiana House Republican to be targeted over who she might vote for as Speaker of the Louisiana House next week.

The contest is between Rep. Walt Leger III, a New Orleans Democrat backed by Gov. Elect John Bel Edwards, and Republican Rep. Cameron Henry, of Metairie. Leger is said to have enough votes to win the election that traditionally goes to the candidates backed by the governor, but the tallies are close.

Republicans hold an overwhelming majority in 105-seat chamber.

Some GOP groups and PACs have targeted Republicans they believe will not vote for Henry in what has turned into an unusually competitive election for the top leadership position in the House.

A committee calling itself “Residents to Recall Hilferty,” said in a press release that they are concerned Hilferty will back Leger.

“It is important for her to show her credentials as a new Republican and vote for Cameron Henry in what will surely be a very close election.  Her vote could decide control of committee assignments, which would ultimately affect which bills become law,” said organizer James Hou in a press release Monday.

A vote for leadership will take place Monday, Jan. 11, after the House members take their oath of office.

“It’s disappointing to me that someone is trying to use a recall petition to try to force my hand on a vote.” Hilferty said Monday night, adding that she hasn’t made a decision and is still reviewing the positions and histories of both candidates.

“My job is to vote in a way that will benefit my district most,” she said.

Hilferty unseated incumbent Rep. Nick Lorusso in the Oct. 24 open primary with 56.2 percent of the vote. She was backed by several GOP organizations and supported by Roger F. Villere, chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party.

To succeed, the recall petition would need the signatures of a third – 10,749 in all – of the 32,247 registered voters in House District 94, which has 12,416 Republican voters and 10,173 registered Democrats. District 94 covers neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain in Orleans and Jefferson parishes from about Bayou St. John west to the Suburban Canal.

The House Speaker selects the leadership of key committees, usually with input from the governor, decides when bills will be heard and has power over all sorts of perks including parking spaces and housing for the representatives.

Unlike most state legislatures, which operate as independent, co-equal branches of government, Louisiana governors traditionally have chosen the leaders of each chamber. In 2007, the House had a Democratic majority. But Republican Bobby Jindal, as governor-elect, chose Republican Jim Tucker, of Terrytown, as his speaker.

New Revenue secretary talks to Bloomberg BNA

As the incoming secretary at the Department of Revenue, Kimberly Robinson could find herself opposing her current employer, in which, as a partner, she holds an ownership interest.

But Robinson told Bloomberg BNA that while her new department would review a sheaf of tax interpretations that her law firm questioned, she wouldn’t predict any changes. Jones Walker LLP opposed the Revenue Department’s reading of many of the tax rollback laws, such as House Bill 624, passed earlier this year by the Louisiana Legislature.

“The department has put out its position on this issue and at this point all policy of the department will be evaluated to ensure they are compliant with the laws enacted, but I have no plans on addressing (HB624) in particular,” Robinson said in a Q&A with Bloomberg correspondent Nushin Huq, which was  published Thursday.

HB624 reduced by 28 percent tax exclusions and deductions for a variety of activities, including public transportation corporations, oil and gas well allowances for depletion, net operating losses, corporate income tax refunds, dividends from banking corporations, certain expenses disallowed for federal taxation, dividend income, and hurricane recovery benefits.

Robinson has worked in Jones Walker’s state and local tax team since 2008. She had worked previously in the administration of Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Bloomberg BNA reports legal and tax issues.


Incoming John Bel Edwards administration says Louisiana budget is a mess, more dire than thought

The budget architect for incoming Gov Elect John Bel Edwards said Wednesday the state’s budget problems are much worse than previously thought and will require a wide variety of ideas to solve – including higher taxes.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, in his first press conference as commissioner of administration designee, acknowledged “we’re going to look” at tax increases. But he wasn’t specific and underlined that all options are on the table.


“It’ll be very difficult to do without having some sources of new revenue,” Dardenne said when asked directly how the Edwards administration is going to balance the budget without tax increases.

“The harsh reality is there is no immediate fix that we can point to and say, ‘If we do this we will say this will be the way out of this mess,’” he said.

But the message of the day was that state government is about $1.9 billion short of revenues.

“We knew the budget was a mess, but it wasn’t quite as dramatic as we’re now finding out,” Dardenne said.

The Revenue Estimating Conference ruled Nov. 16 that state coffers came up about $487 million short for paying its bills from the fiscal year that ended June 30 and for the current one, which began July 1. The Jindal administration proposed – and legislators adopted – mid-year fixes.

But Dardenne said much of those corrections have not materialized and when coupled with a continuing drop of oil prices, decline in sales tax collections, and a dramatic slump in corporate income taxes translates to a new $400 million to $450 million shortfall for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

In addition to being short on revenue, the state also needs about $300 million to make payments it doesn’t have.

“The economists tell us our budget is set up to spend money we won’t have,” Dardenne said.

About $190 million of that amount comes from the Jindal administration underestimating how people would use Medicaid, he said.

The state is scheduled to pay public schools $20 million and $20 million for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, the popular program that pays college tuition and is called TOPS.

For the next fiscal year, the state is about $1.3 billion short of the money necessary to cover the existing state services with inflation, Dardenne said. That amounts to about 15 percent of the state general fund available to spend.

“We are going to speak the truth, frankly and boldly,” Dardenne said. “We are ending the era of gimmicks and trickery. We’re blowing away the smoke and breaking the mirrors regarding the state budget.”

Dardenne blamed the Jindal administration and its reliance on using “one-time money” – funds from a source that won’t reliably produce revenue – and other accounting methods to balance the budget.

Gov. Bobby Jindal defended his budgeting practices in a prepared statement.

“The state budget is balanced, like it has been every year for eight years in a row,” Jindal wrote in an emailed response to a reporter’s question. “We made a choice not to raise taxes for eight years and instead to cut the size of government in order to balance the budget. Raising taxes hurts job creators and small businesses.  Raising taxes would be an easy way for government to be flush with money again, but we have always believed and continue to believe that raising taxes is the wrong approach for our economy.”




Inaugural work continues

Workers raced the rain Tuesday to work on preparing the State Capitol for the Jan. 11 inauguration of Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards.

The ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m. and Edwards will be sworn in at 12 noon from the platform on the State Capitol steps.

Work is progressing for the inauguration.

Work is progressing for the inauguration.

It’s the only inaugural event open to the public, though 11,000 invitations have been sent out. Inauguration is legal holiday in Baton Rouge

The 141st Field Artillery Battalion of the Louisiana National Guard will provide a 19-gun salute, and the 159th Fighter Wing of the Louisiana Air National Guard will perform a flyover.

Edwards and his family will begin the day with Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge. The church service will be officiated by Baton Rouge Bishop Robert Muench and is by invitation only. Several state legislators and other elected officials are expected to attend.

A black-tie ball in the evening will be held at Celtic Studios in Baton Rouge. The Associated Press reports that 5,000 invitations have been sent for the inaugural ball.

Jay Dardenne taps team for Division of Administration

Jay Dardenne has started putting together his team for when he takes over as commissioner of administration for incoming Governor-elect John Bel Edwards.

Barbara Goodson, deputy commissioner for finance and administration at the Board of Regents, will become Lt. Gov. Dardenne’s chief assistant as deputy commissioner of administration. She held the post from 2008 to 2010.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who takes over as Commissioner of Administration in January, is being interviewed by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who takes over as Commissioner of Administration in January, is being interviewed by Louisiana Public Broadcasting.

Dardenne also tapped Monday three assistant commissioners: Desireé Honoré Thomas as assistant commissioner of statewide services, and Randy Davis as assistant commissioner of policy and personnel – both are in the lieutenant governor’s office – as well as Mark Moses, who will also remain as head of the Office of Facility Planning and Control, a post he has held for the past two years.

Richard L. McGimsey, who is director of the Civil Division in Attorney General’s Office, will move across the street to serve as executive counsel for the Division of Administration.

“All of these appointees are outstanding and reputable public servants with expertise and experience that will help this administration address the severe budget challenges we must confront immediately,” Dardenne said in a press release announcing his selections.

The commissioner of administration acts as the governor’s chief budget architect and the division oversees the management of state finances and financial operations.