Monday Reads: Pork Puller EditionPosted: August 25, 2014
One of the most appalling things I’ve been witnessing the last few years is how costly it is for the taxpayers to fund Republican witch hunts, theocratic laws pandering to christianists that wind up being declared unconstitutional over and over again, lawsuits defending crooked Republican governors or prosecuting crooked Republican politicians, and then the tax breaks they immediately give to their donors and cronies that don’t do anything except cost everyone money and jobs. So, welcome to socializing Republican graft, crime, and cronyism in the USA!
New Jersey taxpayers are on the hook for more than $6.5 million to the law firm Gov. Chris Christie hired to represent his office in the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal.
The state attorney general’s office released recent bills from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher on Friday.
The law firm represents Christie’s office in the state and federal investigations into last September’s lane closures. It published a 350-page report in March that found Christie and his top staffers were not involved in the lane closures ordered by a former Christie aide, apparently as political retribution.
The report has been criticized by some as a whitewash.
Gibson Dunn earlier this year agreed to reduce its rate from the original agreement of $650 per hour to $350.
Wisconsin is another state where the Governor has instituted every possible failed Republican economic policy offered up by the Koch Brothers. Get a load of these huge tax cuts that went to a business for being a job creator while they laid off 1900 people. Ashley Furniture got a $6 million dollar tax cut for that lovely set of job creation.
The board overseeing the state’s flagship job-creation agency has quietly approved a $6 million tax credit for Ashley Furniture Industries with a condition allowing the company to eliminate half of its state workforce.
As approved by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. board, the award would allow the Arcadia-based global furniture maker to move ahead with a $35 million expansion of its headquarters and keep 1,924 jobs in the state.
But it wouldn’t require Ashley to create any new jobs, instead granting the company license to lay off half of its current 3,848 Wisconsin-based workers in exchange for an enterprise zone tax credit, one of the most valuable and coveted state subsidies.
The board’s decision has not been made public because a contract with the company has not been finalized. But in a statement Friday, in response to questions from the State Journal, Ashley Furniture confirmed it is seeking state subsidies that include terms allowing for job reductions.
The company said it injected $394 million into the Wisconsin economy in 2013, including supporting 610 Wisconsin businesses.
“It is more expensive for Ashley to manufacture in Arcadia than it is to do so closer to its major markets,” the company said. “The loss of Ashley’s contributions to the regional economy of west-central Wisconsin would be catastrophic.”
WEDC spokesman Mark Maley said the agency doesn’t comment on pending or possible WEDC awards.
“Obviously, WEDC is very interested in working with one of the largest employers in northwestern Wisconsin to find ways to help ensure that the company can continue to flourish here in our state,” Maley said. “WEDC is committed to doing whatever it can to work with the company and preserve those jobs.”
Maley declined comment on whether WEDC had provided any other awards conditioned on retaining a percentage of jobs, as opposed to creating jobs.
When Bobby Jindal isn’t busy trying to prove his pet laws aren’t really unconstitutional or campaigning for President, his appointees are busy ripping off the state by taking advantage of retiree early payoffs. The deal is, however, they retire from one job, take a huge cash bonus, then get another job with another agency. So far, we’ve had two of his top folks double dip and slice a bonus from us. So, that’s one way to get away from Jindal’s hiring freeze and salary freeze and spending freeze on everything except his campaign travel. How can this be legal let alone moral?
On April 23 of that year, DPS Deputy Undersecretary Jill Boudreaux sent an email to all personnel informing them that the Department of Civil Service and the Louisiana State Police Commission had approved the retirement incentive as a “Layoff Avoidance Plan.”
In legal-speak, under the incentive eligible applicants would receive a payment of 50 percent of the savings realized by DPS for one year from the effective date of the employee’s retirement.
In simpler language, the incentive was simply 50 percent of the employee’s annual salary. If an employee making $50,000 per year, for example, was approved for the incentive, he or she would walk away with $25,000 in up-front payments, plus his or her regular retirement and the agency would save $25,000 over the course of the next year. The higher the salary, the higher the potential savings.
The program, offered to the first 20 DPS employees to sign up via an internet link on a specific date, was designed to save the state many times that amount over the long haul. If, for example, 20 employees, each making $50,000 a year, took advantage of the incentive, DPS theoretically would realize a savings of $500,000 the first year and $1 million per year thereafter.
That formula, repeated in multiple agencies, could produce a savings of several million—not that much in terms of a $25 billion state budget, but a savings nonetheless.
The policy did come with one major caveat from the Department of Civil Service, however. Agencies were cautioned not to circumvent the program through the state’s obscure retire-rehire policy whereby several administrative personnel, the most notable being former Secretary of Higher Education Sally Clausen, have “retired,” only to be “rehired” a day or so later in order to reap a monetary windfall.
“We strongly recommend that agencies exercise caution in re-hiring an employee who has received a retirement incentive payment within the same budget unit until it can be clearly demonstrated that the projected savings have been realized,” the Civil Service communique said.
And, to again quote our favorite redneck playwright from Denham on Amite, Billy Wayne Shakespeare from his greatest play, Hamlet Bob, “Aye, that’s the rub.” (often misquoted as “Therein lies the rub.”)
Basically, to realize a savings under the early retirement incentive payout, an agency would have had to wait at least a year before rehiring an employee who had retired under the program.
Boudreaux, by what many in DPS feel was more than mere happenstance, managed to be the first person to sign up on the date the internet link opened up for applications.
In Boudreaux’s case, her incentive payment was based on an annual salary of about $92,000 so her incentive payment was around $46,000. In addition, she was also entitled to payment of up to 300 hours of unused annual leave which came to another $13,000 or so for a total of about $59,000 in walk-around money.
Her retirement date was April 28 but the day before, on April 27, she double encumbered herself into the classified (Civil Service) Deputy Undersecretary position because another employee was promoted into her old position on April 26.
A double incumbency is when an employee is appointed to a position that is already occupied by an incumbent, in this case, Boudreaux’s successor. Double incumbencies are mostly used for smooth succession planning initiatives when the incumbent of a position (Boudreaux, in this case) is planning to retire, according to the Louisiana Department of Civil Service.
Here’s an example of how much the state is paying for one bad law after another. Jindal’s voucher experience is not only sending students to segregated and underperforming schools with no accountability, but attorneys are racking up fees trying to defend it. Imagine spending this kind of money to have a court throw out these failed laws?
The price tag for defending Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education policies against legal challenges is growing.
The Department of Education is boosting its contracts for outside lawyers by $750,000, to represent the department in lawsuits against Jindal’s voucher program that uses tax dollars to send children to private schools.
A majority of members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed Tuesday to the legal spending.
The education department’s contract with Washington-based law firm Cooper & Kirk is growing from $150,000 to $650,000. The agency’s contract with the Louisiana-based Faircloth Law Group – the law firm of Jindal’s former executive counsel, Jimmy Faircloth – is rising from $20,000 to as much as $270,000.
“I regret that there is this litigation,” said Superintendent of Education John White. But he added, “We have to defend our priorities in court.”
Lee Barrios, a retired St. Tammany Parish teacher and critic of the voucher program, told BESE that the legal expense was a waste of taxpayer money.
Lawsuits were filed by two teacher unions and the state’s school board association objecting to the voucher program’s financing and by the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the program’s compliance with federal desegregation orders.
The unions and school boards association won their lawsuit, with the Louisiana Supreme Court declaring the use of the public school formula to pay for vouchers unconstitutional. Jindal and lawmakers continue to fund vouchers, now outside of the public school formula.
The Justice Department lawsuit still is pending in federal court in New Orleans.
It’s unclear how much the education department has spent defending itself and the Jindal administration against lawsuits since the governor pushed through the Legislature a series of sweeping education law changes in 2012. The department didn’t immediately respond Tuesday to a request for a full tally of its legal costs.
Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s office also has a separate contract with Faircloth’s law firm worth up to $410,000 to represent the state in lawsuits seeking to throw out Jindal’s education policies, including the governor’s revamp of teacher tenure law.
Here’s a 2012 Jezebel article outlining how much it’s costing red states to defend those horrible anti-abortion and birth control trap laws. This is fiscal conservatism? Perhaps the only thing the do nothing US House is doing at all is throwing millions of federal dollars into the witch hunt that is Benghazi.
The House could spend up to $3.3 million in taxpayer dollars over seven months on a special committee to investigate the Sep. 2011 attacks against the American diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, more than lawmakers have appropriated for committees dedicated to investigating ethics and helping American veterans over an entire 12 month period.
A ThinkProgress analysis of House spending on its 20 permanent committees from Jan. 3, 2013 to Jan. 3, 2014 finds that since Benghazi committee’s full-year equivalent budget would be an estimated $5,657,142, its investigation will cost more than the budgets of nine other House committees:
Committee on Rules: $2,857,408
Committee on Small Business: $2,992,688
Committee on Ethics: $3,020,459
Committee on Veterans’ Affairs: $3,048,546
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence: $4,389,758
Committee on House Administration: $4,600,560
Committee on Agriculture: $5,036,187
Committee on the Budget: $5,138,824
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology: $5,282,755
House Benghazi Panel: $5,657,142
Committee on Natural Resources: $6,555,829
Committee on Armed Services: $6,563,535
Committee on Education and the Workforce: $6,952,763
Committee on Homeland Security: $7,033,588
Committee on the Judiciary: $7,077,016
Committee on Foreign Affairs: $7,388,112
Committee on Financial Services: $7,394,482
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: $8,182,307
Committee on Ways and Means: $8,423,411
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: $8,940,437
Committee on Energy and Commerce: $9,520,516
The seven House Republicans will receive a bigger share of the committee budget, $2.2 million, more than the five Democrats, who will see “just over $1 million.” Funding for the committee “comes from already-appropriated legislative branch funds” a GOP spokesperson told USA Today, and does not represent a new expenditure. The spokesperson also claimed that the $3.3 million figure represents “the high end estimate,” though the investigation is likely to bleed into 2015.
Both Louisiana and Sam Brownback’s Kansas are experiencing lower than average growth in their economies and their employment due to the bad policies they enacted to keep donors like Club for Growth and the Kochs happy. Brownback’s economic policies have been a complete disaster for the state.
On Friday, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released the latest employment figures for all 50 states — the same ones the Brownback administration uses repeatedly for its “we’re getting better” press releases.
Overall, the number of private sector jobs added since 2011 in Kansas crept up to 55,100. However, that statistic loses a lot of shine once you factor in the 8,300 jobs lost in local and state government ranks since 2011. Those are people who may no longer have steady income to pay the rent, buy food, pay taxes and contribute to the Kansas economy.
Fact is, Kansas has actually gained only 46,800 total jobs since early 2011.
So how does that more realistic figure — which the Brownback team does not promote — compare to the rest of the country?
Using the federal agency’s data, The Star compiled percentages of seasonally adjusted, nonfarm total job growth for Kansas, its four bordering states, a few other Midwestern states, Texas (no income tax), New York (extremely high income tax), and the U.S. average from January 2011 through June 30, 2014.
Texas, 10.5 percent
Colorado, 9.2 percent
Oklahoma, 6.5 percent
U.S. average, 6.1 percent
Iowa, 5.0 percent
New York, 4.8 percent
Missouri, 4.1 percent
Nebraska, 3.8 percent
Kansas, 3.5 percent
Arkansas, 1.9 percent
Kansas has had one of the nation’s poorest rates of employment growth during Brownback’s time in office, including since the first tax cuts took effect in 2013.
It just amazes me that Republicans can cobble together enough voters anywhere who don’t see these porkfests and poor economies as a sham. The only voters they are holding together are the number of whacko churches and businesses that are benefiting from being the sole enterprises to get government dollars these days. The other seems to be very frightened white people who believe every bad thing they’ve ever been sold on any kind of minority. It seems if you want the Republicans to throw money at you, you should start and equip a war, spout some crazy religious belief and sell votes for subsidies, or be a lawyer that has to sort it all out.
What a shit load of pricey #FAIL.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?