Jeremy Alford Wednesday, January 8, 2014 0

With Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne expected to announce he’s running for governor — he already has a campaign website — the post he would vacate is attracting a large field of potential successors.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden is dangling his cowboy hat above the ring, telling radio host Jim Engster recently he is “80 percent sure” he will run for the No. 2 office in 2015.

In 2004, Holden, who is African-American, beat Republican incumbent Bobby Simpson in a parish that had just 38 percent black registration at the time. His crossover appeal and ambassadorial style could give him the best shot of making history as the first black candidate to be elected statewide.

His appeal to Democrats is deepened by the African-American turnout he would help drive, which would in turn aid a Democratic candidate for governor.

But he’s hardly alone in wanting the post.

Holden could have north Louisiana competition for the African-American vote if state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, follows through on his interest. And state Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas, who made history over the summer by switching parties to become the first black Republican state senator, might try for more. “We’ll see how things shape up in the next couple of years,” he told LaPolitics in an interview.

Things are taking shape — and fast. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who took 47 percent of the vote against Dardenne in 2011, held a kickoff party for his campaign last month. Fellow Republican, John Young, the popular president of Jefferson Parish, is also looking at the race.

Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle may be lowering his sights after pondering a run for governor.


Vitter Works To Clear The Field

If there were any confusion about who’s playing point on the 2014 U.S. Senate race for the Louisiana Republican Party, wonder no more. Junior Sen. David Vitter has become very serious about taking out his senior counterpart and is personally calling Republican hopefuls — but not to welcome them to the fray. Rather, he’s asking them to step back to give Congressman Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge enough running room to tackle incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in the open field.

The latest to get the call was state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville, who’s considering putting his name on the ballot next year. “Paul had a cordial and respectful telephone conversation with Sen. David Vitter,” a source close to the state rep said. “The senator expressed his concerns about the importance of electing a Republican in 2014. Paul assured Sen. Vitter that if he ran, the campaign’s focus would be on offering voters an alternative to Mary Landrieu, rather than criticizing the other candidates.”

A friend of Hollis said it’s still an “active decision” regarding whether he’ll enter next year’s race for the U.S. Senate. But the decision could come soon.

Vitter also reached out to state Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, before the north Louisiana lawmaker announced he wouldn’t crowd Cassidy and challenge Landrieu.

Republican Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel from Madisonville, is the only other announced GOP candidate thus far.


Lawmakers ‘Launder’ Amnesty Money

Sources in the Legislature and the Dept. of Revenue tell that this year’s tax amnesty program generated in excess of what was budgeted for it. That means lawmakers will indeed have some extra cash to spend.

They desperately needed the amnesty program, which allows taxpayers to settle back taxes with reduced penalties and interest, to bring in at least $200 million this year. The sum is required to cover a gap in the Dept. of Health and Hospital’s Medicaid program and draw down $340 million from the federal government in matching funds.

There are restrictions, however, in state and constitutional law that stipulate how any dollars over that threshold can be spent. If past actions are any indication, lawmakers will more than likely use some clever accounting to get around those prohibitions to funnel all the money into the state budget.

But before that can happen, the Revenue Estimating Conference — a panel that identifies how much money the state has coming in — will need to determine whether the extra amnesty money is recurring or non-recurring. There are restrictions on where non-recurring funds, known as one-time money, can be placed; for instance:

— 25 percent must go into the Rainy Day Fund savings account.

— 5 percent must be used to pay down unfunded accrued liability, or retirement debt.

— 70 percent can be spent on either of the first two categories, or on coastal restoration, “debt defeasance,” “higher education deferred maintenance projects” and highway construction.

There’s more flexibility for the recurring portion of the excess. House Ways and Means Chairman Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is already urging his colleagues to approach with caution.

“For the dollars recognized as recurring, this amount can be spent in our operating budget,” Robideaux wrote in a letter to lawmakers last week. “We may want to set these funds aside until the budget situation becomes more clear.”

As for how much of the current haul will be recognized as one-time, or non-recurring, the last tax amnesty program held in 2010 offers some guidance. It had an overage of $482 million, of which $242 million was identified as non-recurring.

While it wasn’t legal for that money to be placed directly into the operating budget, lawmakers still found a way to do it. They put the entire sum in the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, as allowed by the Constitution, then moved it into the Over-collections Fund, as permitted by statute. From there, lawmakers put all the money in DHH’s budget.

The other $240 million from 2010 was identified as recurring and spent as follows:

— $76 million went to the Dept. of Revenue to cover costs related to the amnesty program.

— $75 million went into the Rainy Day Fund; it was subsequently swept out and appropriated to the Board of Regents.

— $90 million was deposited into the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund; that was also yanked out after the fact and appropriated to DHH.

“The bottom line is that all the $482 million in 2010 amnesty proceeds eventually ended up in the operating budget,” writes Robideaux.

The first four quotations were excerpted from last month’s Harper’s Magazine, which included an article tracing the oil and gas industry’s long history as Louisiana’s dominant political power.


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