You might not have heard about this Friday, but it’s perhaps the most brazen attempt of a Louisiana politician to steal money out of the public till we’ve seen in recent years.
State Rep. Marcus Hunter said he will withdraw an amendment Monday that would direct rental car tax money to the nonprofit agency founded by his father.
Hunter, D-Monroe, added the amendment Friday to Rep. Julie Stokes’ bill restoring a state rental car tax without objection. The amendment would direct half of the local Ouachita Parish portion of the tax to the Monroe Regional Airport and the other to HAMPCO, a nonprofit founded in 1997 by then-Rep. Willie Hunter, D-Monroe.
But once fellow Monroe Rep. Jay Morris, R-Monroe, discovered what was in the amendment he objected on the House floor. Stokes, R-Kenner, returned the bill to the calendar once the controversy emerged.
“I plan to pull the amendment Monday,” Hunter said. “I don’t want there to be even a hint of impropriety. But I don’t apologize for trying to direct money to those who need it within my district.”
Well, he damn sure ought to apologize, because his father’s NGO is not a proper recipient for your tax dollars under any circumstances – and certainly not when a tax is being raised to pay off a budget deficit.
Frankly, if any revenues raised by the rental car tax moving through the legislature are directed anywhere but the state general fund, that tax ought to be killed on the spot. Louisiana has more than enough dedicated revenue – and if Marcus Hunter’s family NGO didn’t have enough stroke to pull funding out of previously dedicated government swag, then he can wait until the price of oil rises high enough to produce a surplus before he tries sucking on the state teat.
The bill establishing the tax is HB 39 by Rep. Julie Stokes. It establishes a 2.5 percent tax to the state general fund and an 0.5 percent tax to local governments. The latter part of the bill is nothing more than a bribe to get local governments and their sympathetic state representatives on board with it, and it shouldn’t exist – if we’re to have tax increases they ought to go specifically to the places where there is a shortfall – and that’s the general fund.
As we can see, the leges are using the local part of the tax as a vehicle for pork. Notwithstanding Hunter’s money grab, it’s already in the bill to shovel one-third of what it generates in Jefferson Parish to the city of Kenner for arts and recreation, another third to the city of Westwego for promotion of the Westwego Performing Arts Center and a final third to the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau. And in Orleans, the revenue from the tax has been dedicated to the New Orleans Council on Aging for the rest of 2016 and starting next year it will go for road repairs and beautification projects.
So when the state already is giving local governments some $6 billion in swag every year and is running a deficit, it’s now enacting taxes to generate more swag – and then dedicating that money away from what the local governments would put it toward.
This is what passes for good government.
Back to Hunter’s money-grab, because there’s a reason why it caused a sizable dust-up in the first place.
What is HAMPCO? From a past funding request it sent to the legislature, it stands for “Helping Assist Multi Purpose Community Organization.” And here is how it describes itself…
HAMPCO, INC was established as a 501 C(3)organization in 1997 to act as a fiscal agent for District 17 under the leadership of the former State Representative Willie Hunter, Jr. HAMPCO’s goal has always been to protect and serve the people of the community. HAMPCO’s vision is to build stronger communities, by addressing the needs of the family as a whole whenever possible. We are conscious of the changing demographic in our communities and certain concerns that need to be addressed, in order for a more positive outcome. The idea of sponsoring programs in the area where there is single parent families, who are supporting the family minimum wage jobs or government assistance. These individuals are the one usually receiving free lunch. These program initiatives will target the family as a whole, from sponsoring hot meals to seniors, to providing skills for making financial decisions, to mentoring and leadership programs for our teens , to assist in furthering individuals education through scholarships and by supporting schools with back to school supplies and supporting extra curriculum activities.
And here’s how it accounted for its budget…
Salaries. . . . . . . . . . . . .$14,856
Professional Services. . .$3,000
Contracts . . . . . . . . . . .$6,929
Acquisitions . . . . . . . . .$0
Major Repairs . . . . . . .$1,500
Operating Services. . . .$8,000
Other Charges. . . . . . .>$50,320
In other words, there is no particular accounting for any concrete work this organization did.
And if you Google this organization, you will be hard-pressed to find a single bit of evidence that it’s done anything to better anybody’s life.
We characterize this thing as a fugazi and a slush fund for one simple reason – NGO’s connected to state legislators getting appropriations from the legislature is a long-running scam that has been outed again and again, but for some reason this scam continues to resurface every year.
Kudos to Morris for blowing the whistle on Hunter’s attempted smash-and-grab. He ought to be shamed out of the legislature for attempting to steal our money. But the next step is to insure there are no amendments to any tax bills redirecting any of their proceeds anywhere but the general fund. Dedications and earmarks and pork, particularly done for the purposes of showering leges and their pals with free government cash, are the single best reason why Louisiana’s public fisc is busted at present, and greedy villains like Marcus Hunter need to be barred from making the problem worse.
Is Foster Campbell actually running for the Senate? He kinda said he was running on the Jim Engster Show Thursday, but didn’t exactly announce it.
And he’s put the arm on John Bel Edwards to support him, and Edwards has done so (stupidly) – largely because Campbell raised Edwards a lot of money for his gubernatorial run last year.
Engster asked Campbell, who was a guest on his show, if he was running for the Senate.
Campbell responded, “Yes, I am seriously considering it.” It was an answer he had given before.
Engster tried again.
“What I will tell you today, I am making preparations to run for the U.S. Senate everywhere I go,” Campbell said.
He then went on to discuss his 13 years as a utility regulator, elected from the conservative north Louisiana, and the 26 years he had served in the state Senate, where his legislation created a billion-dollar trust fund for handling the money Big Tobacco pays each year in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit.
“A lot of folks probably don’t like my politics. There are a lot who do. I have been a fighter, unequivocal,” Campbell said.
If you’re actually, seriously running for the U.S. Senate, you hire campaign staff, you’re out raising money, you’ve got a Super PAC you can drop your state campaign war chest into, and you make an actual announcement.
This is more of a testing the waters thing.
Caroline Fayard actually announced she was running, and because she did she’s out trawling the waters for trial lawyer money to fund her race. If Campbell were to get in, it would likely split the Democrat vote in the state with most of it north of Alexandria going to Campbell. And that could well provide an opening for a second Republican to make the runoff.
Which, after what happened last year, is just fine by us. This business of having a host of well-funded Republicans savaging each other in a jungle primary while one completely unpalatable and unqualified Democrat skates into the runoff without so much as a scratch on him or her is for the birds.
And because that’s true, we would doubt Campbell gets in. Edwards is paying lip service to him because he’s beholden, but nobody in the Democrat Party thinks that crazy SOB has a chance to win, and they also know they can’t win a statewide race unless it sets up exactly the way the Vitter-Edwards contest did last year.
The bet here is Campbell knows it too, and that’s why he won’t announce he’s running.
Speaking of Edwards, the clown who went on statewide television and threatened to kill college football in Louisiana now has this to say about his predecessor…
Edwards, who has repeatedly blamed Jindal for the state’s $900 million shortfall and other budget problems, labeled his two-term Republican predecessor “the most irresponsible governor who has ever governed Louisiana.” Without naming Jindal, Edwards also said that for eight years “we pretended things were better than they were, that we could do more with less.”
The result, he said, is developments like Thursday’s decision by Moody’s Investors Service to downgrade Louisiana’s credit rating, which means it will cost more for the state to borrow.
“We should take this as a wake-up call,” the governor said in a 15-minute address. “We all live in the real world.”
The Democratic governor blasted Jindal after saying “some in the media and social media” have blamed him for the state’s financial crisis, including a $2 billion shortfall for the budget year that begins July 1.
And to whom did he make this speech?
Edwards made his comments to a friendly audience — the annual winter leadership conference of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers. The group is one of the state’s two teachers unions and a longtime ally of the governor.
Nobody has blamed Edwards for inheriting a budget deficit, though since he voted for five – or maybe even six – of Jindal’s eight budgets, including the one for this fiscal year that Edwards now says is a billion dollars out of balance, then perhaps people should be blaming him. The main reason we’ve heard for the deficit is the dive in oil prices and the negative effect those have had on all kinds of other economic indicators in the state.
But this business of dumping on Jindal is instructive, because while Edwards whined like a little baby last year about being painted as an Obama, he’s showing that characterization was one hundred percent accurate. Barack Obama is still blaming George W. Bush for his poor economic and budgetary performance, and the casting of blame on his predecessor was incessant and relentless during his first term. Now, Edwards is aping the president to the letter in blaming Jindal.
At some point it’s likely that Jindal will fire back at Edwards unlike W did to Obama (it was proper and dignified that as an ex-president Bush left politics alone, but there was little reward in it other than the public’s increasing goodwill; a former governor is not subject to the same expectations and as someone with future political ambitions he’s not going to allow the current governor to trash him forever). And when he does it’s going to be worth making popcorn for.
Because Jindal has eight years of stories to tell about John Bel Edwards, stories that he could and should have told last year but didn’t because of the stupid feud he and David Vitter had running between them. Now he’d merely be defending himself if he were to rip the governor for running his mouth. And getting in a tinkling contest with a former governor, which Edwards is attempting to do, is the last thing he needs – it’s a distraction, and if the state really is in such a crisis that he’s going to try to blame on Jindal then at some point Edwards is going to get blamed for not making improvements. And Jindal has a trump card to use on Edwards, which is that he managed to make it work at the Capitol without raising taxes on poor people like Edwards is trying to do now.
Remember the tornadoes last week? Of course you do. But here’s a story about a building the tornadoes missed…