Louisiana editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:
The Advocate on corruption in state offices:
As the Cains go to prison, their punishment for the corruption they advanced in Louisiana’s insider-infested prison system shouldn’t be the end of the story.
The scandal should be an issue in the governor’s election in October. Nate Cain, former warden of a state prison in Cottonport, and his ex-wife, who served as the prison’s business manager, were sentenced Monday to federal prison for their role in an extensive scheme during which the couple made personal purchases with public funds.
Nate Cain is the son of Burl Cain, longtime godfather of the political establishment in Louisiana’s prison system. While the prosecution that ensnared Nate Cain is welcome, he couldn’t have perpetrated his crimes if his bosses were making sure he stayed on the straight and narrow. The top brass, including longtime Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, should be held accountable, too.
Nate Cain, who pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud related to gun purchases made with public funds for his personal use, will serve a three-year sentence. Tonia Bandy, his ex-wife, was sentenced to eight months in federal prison for one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
U.S. District Court Judge Dee D. Drell also ordered the pair to pay more than $42,000 in restitution to the state. Sadly, the buying of flat-screen TVs and other personal spending by the younger Cains is one of many abuses by the Cain protégés in the system.
Burl Cain’s influence continues at the highest levels of the state Department of Corrections. That needs to change.
LeBlanc is another longtime associate of the elder Cain. A pattern of connections throughout the system is what allowed Burl Cain to abuse his privileges. Nepotism is rife, as the younger Cain demonstrated. And it was not as if Nate Cain’s misdeeds were a secret, including the unauthorized construction of his new home on prison grounds right under the noses of his supposed superiors. Burl Cain was a business partner of LeBlanc’s, among many other connections.
In spite of those lapses Gov. John Bel Edwards has kept LeBlanc, a Bobby Jindal appointee, at the head of the prison system. As the son of a sheriff, the governor has pushed — with LeBlanc’s assistance — significant reforms in state criminal law.
How long, though, will the Cain world remain a source of jobs — and perhaps corruption — on the state dime? It’s a question voters should ask as campaign season gets under way.
The Houma Courier on Congress’ National Flood Insurance Program extension and its future:
Congress is once again trying to deliver some sort of long-term relief to long-suffering home and business owners who rely on the National Flood Insurance Program to protect their largest investments.
For years, the program has skidded from one short-term extension to the next, always in need of permanent reform but lacking enough political clout to make it happen.
There seems to be something different about the current effort, though. Perhaps the involvement of Republican Whip Steve Scalise, R-Metairie, whose district includes the southern parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, has made a difference. And perhaps the unique expertise of Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, who represents the northern parts of our local parishes, has been able to inform the process.
“After 12 short-term extensions, many of which passed mere hours or days before the program would have lapsed, it is long past time for Congress to pass a long-term reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program,” Scalise said after the House Financial Services Committee voted last week to pass a five-year extension on the full House. “The fact that Republicans and Democrats in the House have been able to come together in a bipartisan fashion to move forward on a bill that provides long-term certainty for policyholders and make key reforms is a significant accomplishment.”
The crux of the program’s problem is that it is drowning in debt spawned by several large, costly storms. But the millions of people who rely on it for flood insurance deserve to know from month to month and from year to year that they are covered. A five-year extension will at least deliver some peace of mind even if it doesn’t make substantive changes to make the program more sustainable over the long haul.
In the end, Congress will have to increase the number of people paying premiums into the program by forcing banks and mortgage companies who oversee federally backed loans to enforce the requirement for flood coverage in flood-prone areas. Enlarging the pool of policy holders will greatly increase the amount of money flowing into the program.
The current extension isn’t going to accomplish that, but it will be a much-needed improvement for the people who have watched nervously as their flood insurance time and again came dangerously close to lapsing.
Let’s hope lawmakers can use the time of the extension — if it does eventually pass both houses of Congress and receive the president’s signature — to pursue necessary reforms before the same situation arises in another five years.
Editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper, not of any individual.
The Advocate on the lack of a long-term vision in the legislature’s attempts to fix state highway funding:
While there is much legislative self-congratulation after Louisiana’s biggest pork-barrel highway bill in years, the public deserves better.
The bill passed in the recent session of the Legislature involves a cautionary tale of how law is actually made. The legislation does advance some needed projects, but with little regard to long-term needs that may be different from the projects finally chosen.
That’s the wrong way to approach infrastructure spending, and it ignores the long-term costs of building and, above all, maintaining roads and bridges in the state.
House Bill 578 by state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma basically took money coming to the state from part of the BP oil spill damages and threw the dollars into a couple of major projects that were selected from no other criteria than political pull. The elevated highway to Port Fourchon near Magee’s district was sought by the influential oil and gas industry, and Magee’s Senate co-author got a big local project for his area, on La. 415 in suburban Baton Rouge.
House members approved it so that they could say in an election year they were doing something about the infrastructure crisis, though this is not nearly enough. Rolling that pork barrel over to the Senate side resulted in a slew of additions, so that $690 million from the BP fund, to be collected over the next 15 years, will be used — in some fashion — for roads and bridges.
Many of the projects are far too expensive for the amount of money allocated. That’s why the public should not be fooled by the political acumen of the pork-barrel caucus, which in this case was just about everybody in the House and Senate.
This was about political credit for a Legislature unwilling to do the right thing, which is raise the 30-year-old state gasoline tax.
Funding is not a bad thing, because the state Department of Transportation Development under Secretary Shawn Wilson can put it to use. DOTD under Gov. John Bel Edwards has a good record of cobbling together special funds and some creative financing to push legitimate projects, such as the Interstate 10 widening in Baton Rouge and the new airport exit in Kenner.
Another bit of good news in this: The Magee bill does not raid the BP settlement funds that are dedicated to the coast.
He tapped a smaller payment, based on compensating the state for economic damages from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster. But some of that money was intended to refill the state’s rainy day reserve. So the bill is in several ways a short-term vision.
We’re glad to see that the Legislature, at least so far, is hewing to the important line set over two administrations that protects the $5.8 billion in environmental damages to be used strictly for coastal protection and preservation.
We hope that requirement stays in place. But given that the Legislature is always desperate to say it’s accomplishing something without the pain of putting permanent funding in place, can we count on it? HB 578 is an exercise in expedience that could be indulged again one day.