DAN CLAITOR, LOUISIANA STATE SENATOR, DISCUSSES THE $1.6 BILLION GAP IN THE STATE’S BUDGET

Legal Lines With Locke Meredith

Show 122

Special Guest Dan Claitor

04/26/11

 

Locke Meredith: Hello I’m Locke Meredith and I’d like to invite you to join me on the next legal lines where we are very pleased to have on the show state Senator Dan Claitor. Dan’s going to talk to us about the big issue in our state this year, and that is the lack of money that we have available.

We have a 1.6 billion dollar gap between the amount of revenues we have collected and the twenty-five billion dollar budget that the governor’s proposing. Dan’s going to talk to us about the big issues, like where we’re going to cut, are we going to merge universities, tuition increases, and a lot of other issues. So join us on the next legal lines with State Senator, Dan Claitor.

Locke Meredith: Welcome to legal lines, I’m Locke Meredith and I am very pleased to have on the show today Dan Claitor, he is our State Senator for District 16.

Dan thanks for coming back on the show.

Senator Claitor: My Pleasure, Thank you Locke.

Locke Meredith: I know things are busy and blowing and going down at the big capitol so, let’s get into it.

Senator Claitor: Sure

Locke Meredith: Big issue, I guess the biggest issue recently was redistricting, explain that to the folks and why?

Senator Claitor: Ok, every ten years when the census comes out we have to do redistricting and we do congress, one set of rules applies in Congress, and then we have The Senate and The House, BESE, and the Public Service Commission.

Locke Meredith: Wow, I didn’t realize that. So you got the federal guys who like ya’ll all of a sudden a whole lot and then you have the State level.

Senator Claitor: We do. In that list I also left out The Courts and a different set of rules apply to The Courts.

Locke Meredith: Wow

Senator Claitor: But in congress basically, the difficulty this year is, we were going from seven congressmen to six.

Locke Meredith: Because we lost population in the state.

Senator Claitor: Well actually we didn’t lose population, we just didn’t grow as quickly as the other states. And so that’s why you hear a lot of people getting very excited about who is counted and the manner in which you are counted. But the long and short of it is that we did not grow as quickly as some of the other states. And given that we lost congressman.

Locke Meredith: So in a way, we are losing a little power, I guess.

Senator Claitor: Oh absolutely, more voices is definitely better than fewer.

Locke Meredith: And this is at the federal level, we’re talking about?

Senator Claitor: Correct, essentially when you look at The Constitution and it basically says you divide the population up as nearly, and as equal as possible. And so, basically we have four and a half million people in Louisiana and you divide it by six and you’re close to seven and half, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars for fifty thousand people. And so the problem is the population is not dispersed evenly throughout the state and so you have people that go, why cant we be together with those guys, and why are you cutting things up this way, and things of that sort. Well if it was an evenly dispersed population like a pie and we could just do it, that would be great, but the problem is people have left the rural areas and moved to the urban areas and the urban areas are located not close to one another, so you try to divide that up and it’s really difficult. On top of that you have a layer of the federal civil rights voting act. And then you have to deal with that as well. But basically what you walk away with from the voting rights act is that if you have a minority district, majority minority district, that you can’t all of a sudden get rid of that. And so that’s protected status and so Cedric Richmond of the New Orleans area was a minority majority candidate and so you had to draw a district that he or some other African American could win, and the population in New Orleans was gone. And so they have a district now that comes up the river and captures a bunch of the East Baton Rouge Parish population, that he represents and then you carve up the rest of the state and there is no good term to do it in. And it’s an ugly process.

Locke Meredith: I’m thinking in my head “How does that happen?” You must just hear from literally thousands of people.

Senator Claitor: We went on the road to hear from people, we went to nine different parts of the state to get public input but still at the end of the day, there are angry people and others that are unhappy with it, and there are winners and losers in the way that works. So the big discussion was whether or not the North Louisiana component would have a horizontal look to it or a vertical look to it.

Locke Meredith: Why was that a relevant issue?

Senator Claitor: Well the people in Ouachita, Monroe and those areas said that they want to be included with the people from Shreveport. Well traditionally, they hadn’t been but you can draw the lines that way. So at the end of the day, the way it was important was, if you had horizontal districts in the Northern part of the State they had a propensity or a tendency or whatever word you want to use to be able to elect democratic candidates. If it was vertical it was going to be more republicans in nature.

Locke Meredith: And the bottom line is, the Senate and the House in Louisiana is now Republican controlled.

Senator Claitor: It is, that’s the majority and at the end of the day that’s what we ended up with, as far as what was passed. And I believe Eric Ponte was on your show before.

Locke Meredith: Sure

Senator Claitor: He was instrumental with getting that bill passed, along with Neal Riser (from the Northern part of the State). During the process one of the things we heard about was it didn’t look like we were going to be able to get a plan out. So one of the amendments I brought was to say, well alright it doesn’t look like we are going to be able to get a plan out. Other States, not many of them, but some of them use commissions to do this instead of the legislature to do this. And so that’s an attempt to take the politics out of redistricting, but in effect you never really can take the politics out.

Locke Meredith: Because they’re appointed.

Senator Claitor: They’re appointed and what not, but I believe we’re going to have some conversations about this now that it’s fresh on whether or not we ought to have commissions to make these selections.

Locke Meredith: As I understand it, ya’ll wrapped it up the last day that you could, right?

Senator Claitor: The last day at the last hour and we ran into a snag on public service, I’m sorry the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), and what happened was that bill didn’t make it out. So we haven’t redistrict that yet and that will happen this session.

Locke Meredith: Ok, and as you mentioned there’s the 1965 Voter Act at the federal level and now this plan that ya’ll passed…this redistricting wall, they have to approve it. And as I understand it, it was sent directly to a Federal Judge instead of the Justice Department maybe to eliminate a little bit of politics or something?

Senator Claitor: Well it can happen either way, but at the end of the day the Justice Department passes judgment on it and decides whether or not we put together a legal plan and then if we haven’t we get a window where we can try and take another shot at it. I personally believe that we passed legal plans across the board and that there was effort made to do that.

Locke Meredith: And they have what two months to review it and are supposed to respond one-way or the other?

Senator Claitor: Essentially and then we will find out.

Locke Meredith: And if they ok it, we’re done, except for BESE, if they don’t, negotiations take place.

Senator Claitor: And if we can’t get it right, they take it from us and they produce a plan. So there’s a window on that. So on Congress there’s one set of rules that essentially they come from the Constitution. On the State level players, you don’t have to redistrict down to the person and try to make it as equal as possible. They give a safe harbor of 5 percent plus or minus and so district seats for the Senate should be about 116 and for the House members about 43,000.

Locke Meredith: Wow, a lot of work there.

Senator Claitor: On the court, which didn’t happen this go round, a lot of people say “well the court should be redistrict as well as based on population.” But courts aren’t a representative in office and you don’t want a Judge making a decision based on who he represents. You want him making a decision on the law. And so we haven’t gone down that road. There are some bills filed currently dealing with redistricting of the courts, but should…

Locke Meredith: What is the criteria for that? That’s an interesting concept

Senator Claitor: It is an interesting concept. The population does play a part, but as you and I know, Justice delayed is Justice denied and so it’s really more, in my opinion, a question of how big is their docket and if you’re moving the docket and if they have enough people and the population is being served great, if the population isn’t being served then well maybe we need to redistrict it and put it in a different…

Locke Meredith: So were dealing at the District Level, Appellate Level and Supreme Court Level for the District?

Senator Claitor: Correct, The Courts, The Legislature, The Congress.

Locke Meredith: And the only two left to do are BESE and The Courts?

Senator Claitor: Right, and I don’t know that The Courts will necessary happen this go round. And that last go round it wasn’t done either.

Locke Meredith: Well we’ll tackle this on the next segment. Locke Meredith and State Senator Dan Claitor. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome to legal lines, this is Locke Meredith and again I’m very pleased to have on the show State Senator Dan Claitor. Again, Dan thanks for being on the show.

Dan Claitor: Thank you

Locke Meredith: Um, we’re talking about the big issues and we just talked about redistricting that’s been done to the extent that you guys can do it. Now the Justice Department’s going to review it and hopefully they ok it and move on to a couple of other issues. Let’s move on to the next other big issue and that’s the budget.

Senator Claitor: Absolutely, it’s a big one.

Locke Meredith: As I understand the budget’s big it’s twenty- four to twenty-five billion and we have a 1.6 billion dollar deficit. How do we deal with that? It’s funny; we talked about this last time

Senator Claitor: Oh yeah, it continues to be an issue and we had opportunities last time that we neglected to address. But as you know The Governor’s office brings out a budget, so in March they gave us this document.

Locke Meredith: That looks fun to read.

Senator Claitor: Yeah, it’s 230 pages and basically it’s just how much money the different departments spent.

Locke Meredith: So no details?

Senator Claitor: No real details, you got to dig into it. But if you watch, your viewer’s, want to view it and I recommend they do, they can view it online, and I suggest that they do.

Locke Meredith: And how do they get to it?

Senator Claitor: They go to The Governor’s office and just google budget. And it will come up there, but it’s The Governors Executive Budget for 2011-2012.

Locke Meredith: And it will show money dedicated to The Governors desires to each of his departments?

Senator Claitor: Yes.

Locke Meredith: And agencies?

Senator Claitor: Correct, and basically it adds up to about Twenty-Six Billion dollars. They have a nice slideshow presentation on there on the way that they suggest that it’s done. Anyway, he makes that presentation and then The House works on a bill that they send over to The Senate to deal with this issue. And as we go along the different agencies show up and visit with us and tell us why they believe there money should be spent.

Locke Meredith: So is this the working document though that The Governor sends to both The House and The Senate side and its kind of the document that you guys work from? And we’re going to change it here, and we’re going to add and deduct whatever?

Senator Claitor: Yep, and it goes department by department, Veterans Affairs, Commissioner of Insurance, Public Safety, uh Adult Services, Environmental Quality, it has all the other divisions in there.

Locke Meredith: Ok.

Senator Claitor: Paul Rainwater’s the guy that rides heard on that.

Locke Meredith: And once the house comes up with what they like, and you guys come up with what you like from the Senate, ya’ll still have to come to an agreement on the final one right?

Senator Claitor: Correct. And the problem is that people say, well alright, you’ve got a twenty-six billion dollar budget, you ought to be able to find 1.6 that you should be able to cut out of there. But the problem is that we’re not able to address that much of the pie and that a huge portion of it is dedicated, in one fashion or another.

Locke Meredith: And what do you mean by that?

Senator Claitor: Well I mean like more than half of our budget comes from, well forty-five % of our budget comes from federal funds and so that’s dedicated.

Locke Meredith: So, they tell you were it goes, how it’s spent and who gets it, nothing you can do about that?

Senator Claitor: Not much we can do about that.

Locke Meredith: Ok.

Senator Claitor: You know we can make sure that it’s spent wisely. We should have some oversight on it and make sure it goes in the right direction.

Locke Meredith: Forty-Five % of our States revenue comes from The Federal Government.

Senator Claitor: Correct.

Locke Meredith: That’s incredible.

Senator Claitor: But you pay a lot of taxes and so we should be getting that money back in one fashion or another.

Locke Meredith: But by them sending us that money, they have total control over it.

Senator Claitor: Pretty much. We can deflect it in one-way or another but if it’s for roads, it better go to roads.

And if it’s for healthcare, it ought to go to healthcare. And so on.

Locke Meredith: And so it’s the job of our Federal Representatives, The Federal Senators and The Federal Congressman to make sure we’re getting a bunch of money from The Federal Government.

Senator Claitor: It’s our fair share and it’s the job of our Governor and the Legislators to work on making sure that we maximize our leverage on the money that we’re entitled to.

Locke Meredith: Give us an example.

Senator Claitor: Well an example is that; we have a new head of The Hospitals Department and they are finding opportunities for federal money to be infused into the healthcare side of things that we had ignored for one reason or another beforehand, I don’t know why. But basically they do a match where you spend so much, well they’ll spend so much. And so they’re looking how to best leverage the match and there’s nothing improper or illegal.

Locke Meredith: Right, or you wouldn’t get what you could get from them.

Senator Claitor: Correct, and you want to spend it wisely, you don’t want to waste it. And so the problem is, when you dwindle it all down, what is the part, for lack of a better word, that the State can play with. And the only part that we can essentially play with is about 2.6 billion dollars and so is the part that you can play with.

Locke Meredith: And you got 1.6 that you have to cut, that’s a serious problem.

Senator Claitor: You hear a lot of hollering. And so in the particular case in what we have going on now, is what do you cut and where does that fall and there’s a limited number of places that it falls. So inevitably, everybody has heard this over and over again. It happens in healthcare and in higher Ed.

Locke Meredith: Higher Education?

Senator Claitor: Correct, and so it’s a huge problem. In this particular budget that we have, its based on a fair amount of contingencies, and these contingencies, if they don’t come to pass, will create holes in the budget. One of the contingencies that we’re hearing about in the news quite a bit is this idea that well, we’re going to sell a couple of prisons to finance the budget with one time money. I don’t think you run your business on one time money ; I don’t run mine on one time money.

Locke Meredith: Because it takes care of the problem for that year, but what about…

Senator Claitor: …Next Year.

Locke Meredith: Right.

Senator Claitor: And the year after. So in this particular case you’re hearing a lot about the selling of prisons to finance it and all.

Locke Meredith: Three I’ve heard, right?

Senator Claitor: Yeah, and the interesting thing about it is the more I looked at the numbers, one of the prisons they were talking about is, I want to say a prison that had 580 beds, and they were talking about pushing 280 of the prisoners out of the local population. As far as the Sheriff’s, they do a good job at managing prisoners. They don’t do that great of a job educating them.

Locke Meredith: Right, they just house them and that is all they care about.

Senator Claitor: And some of them have very good return to work programs, and work release programs. But pushing 280 prisoners into the local programs and then the bid would be on a three hundred bed prison, the more I look at that I was left with the impression that heck, rather than sell it, we should just go ahead and close that one. And put them all out to them and save some money there.

Locke Meredith: True.

Senator Claitor: I mean, I’m serious about that, it sounds funny.

Locke Meredith: If the capacity exists elsewhere and you’re not at complete capacity

Senator Claitor: And cheaper.

Locke Meredith: Then why aren’t we doing that?

Senator Claitor: So that’s one of the things I’m looking at. On the other two prisons, they weren’t proposing that sort of solution as far as pushing it out. And it’s just, we’re selling the easier things that we can sell. And so I have difficulty with that. Now we have some surplus property on the river, and other places like that, that’s great, we don’t need that, we can have a garage sale on the stuff that we truly don’t need.

Locke Meredith: It’s a shame having to sell when property prices are at their lowest.

Senator Claitor: Yeah.

Locke Meredith: You do what you have to do.

Senator Claitor: Right, occasionally I kind of feel reminiscent of the Jack and The Beanstalk story, that we’re going to market with our cow and we’re going to get some magic beans to cure the budget. I don’t think we’re going to get some magic beans on that. There’s going to be some difficulties on what we have to do.

Locke Meredith: It’s really ominous.

Senator Claitor: Well it’s not good, but at the same time we are simply being asked to return to a budget along the lines of what we lived on before Katrina. And so what happened was Katrina Federal stimulus money and the insurance money that poured into the state caused us to just get fat with money and it.

Locke Meredith: Alright, lets continue this on the next segment. This is Locke Meredith with Legal Lines and State Senator Dan Claitor. We’ll be right back.

 

Locke Meredith: Welcome back to Legal Lines, I’m Locke Meredith and again I’m pleased to have on the show our State Senator Dan Claitor. We’re talking about the budget issues and what are we going to cut? Dan, we talked about the prisons and selling potentially three of those, or maybe getting rid of one of them. On the education side, tuitions been increased and they’re talking about merging some of the universities. Where are we in that area?

Senator Claitor: Well as we sit here today there’s a rally on the steps of the State Capitol by Southern supporters saying save our Southern, but when you look at what’s going on in New Orleans, as far as the Southern campus there and the UNO campus and the graduation rates, at the two schools, they’re terrible. The Southern graduation rate is on the order of 7 % or 9 % depending on whom you talk to.

Locke Meredith: In New Orleans?

Senator Claitor: In New Orleans.

Locke Meredith: That’s sad.

Senator Claitor: Well if that’s the proper benchmark, that’s one of the questions, is graduation rates the proper benchmark, but when you use a benchmark of what LSU does that’s if the type of student that you’re talking about, they graduate on the order of 60 %, I think its 68, then you kind of go well are we talking about the same thing. But when you look at graduation rates there and you look at UNO’s graduation rates, which is not even a third of LSU’s, You kind of go, what are these two institutions doing? And would the public there be better served merging into one institution? That’s probably a good thing to do.

Locke Meredith: You would save, I guess millions and millions of dollars.

Senator Claitor: It would, but we got to make sure that we have the capacity and that we’re able to help these students.

Locke Meredith: Right, it sounds like it saves millions but really, the primary goal would be to have them better educated and graduating.

Senator Claitor: Correct, in my mind, but when you look at this, its not a bumper sticker slogan as far as, you’ve got to get into the guts of the thing and look at it a lot closer, and that the traditional black schools, a lot of these kids aren’t really prepared for college and they get their preparation as they go along and when they graduate they’re great productive adults. And Southern New Orleans, has a bunch of outstanding graduates, as does UNO, but we can do better. The real question I was at a program the other day and visiting with some folks and some African American friends of mine, we were talking about it and the question was, “Would you send your son there? Would you send your daughter there?” And that’s really the question that we should be asking for all higher ed. Are we treating them well enough that you would want to send your own children there? I send my son to LSU.

Locke Meredith: Me to.

Senator Claitor: And I want to maintain a great program there.

Locke Meredith: Lets talk about the fact that the State has been having this TOPS program. Is that going to be maintained?

Senator Claitor: TOPS program is one of the best programs that we’ve ever done in the state.

Locke Meredith: Why do you say that?

Senator Claitor: Because it encourages excellence and it gets kids to go to school. You know, Mr. Taylor started that program in New Orleans, and I don’t know that he really knew what he was doing in the beginning in that he told and promised some kids in school, if you maintain a certain GPA benchmark, I’ll pay for you to go to college. Well, when you set a bar for children, your own children, and you know it and clarify.

Locke Meredith: You can’t hit the target if you don’t know where it is.

Senator Claitor: Right, I told my son that’s at LSU, you can’t play sports unless you make a 3.0. And he said well that’s not what the school requires. And I said well that’s what I require. Anyway, he cleared that with no trouble and I thought afterwards I should’ve made it a 3.5. You know? But that’s what kids will do.

Locke Meredith: That’s a good point.

Senator Claitor: And if you set a benchmark these kids will meet it.

Locke Meredith: Absolutely, so TOPS is going to be maintained at this point in time?

Senator Claitor: That’s my expectation and desire but what the problem is; is that what I see as a potential issue, is it not getting funded completely.

Locke Meredith: So, we’re borrowing money to pay some of this tuition?

Senator Claitor: No, we won’t be borrowing it, we won’t be funding it completely, and so what that will mean is some kids may get cut out. And the way that it works is they go to your ACT score, basically and the higher ACT scores will be the kids that get funded. If it’s not funded completely the ACT will be essentially…

Locke Meredith: So that’s already in the legislation that provides for the program?

Senator Claitor: William Daniel actually put that in there a long time ago saying what if we don’t ever fully fund it. It is everyone’s desire to fully fund TOPS, but if it doesn’t happen, that’s the criteria.

Locke Meredith: I understand.

Senator Claitor: And the Governors making some changes in the law in an attempt to get some of the tobacco money sivend into TOPS, so that we don’t run into this problem in the future.

Locke Meredith: Let’s talk about some of the bills that you put forth here to deal with some issues that you think are pretty important. First of all, lets talk about the boundary issue, really its pretty interesting.

 

Senator Claitor: Yeah and I appreciate the opportunity to talk about that but when you look at Louisiana and the other Gulf Coast States you see that Texas and Florida have nine mile maritime limits out there.

Locke Meredith: Nine Mile? So they say Nine miles out from the edge of my border…

Senator Claitor: Belongs to Texas and we have sovereignty and the same with Florida. But when you come to Louisiana and Mississippi, and Alabama, we only have three miles. And you kind of go, well what’s up with that, and so there’s some complicated legal arguments about how you entered the union and what your boundaries were and things of that sort, but you look at that at the end of the day and it’s simply not fair that Texas has nine and we only have three. So I’m bringing some legislation that will push our boundaries to nine miles, and its undoubtedly going to cause litigation and were going to have to answer that question in the Supreme Court, they’re the guys that answer.

Locke Meredith: Meaning, the United States Supreme Court?

Senator Claitor: Correct.

Locke Meredith: Typically because the Feds are going to be the ones that say we tell you where your line is.

Senator Claitor: We tell you where your line is, and we take your resources and you should just have…

Locke Meredith: Right, it’s a fight over money is what it is.

Senator Claitor: Right.

Locke Meredith: Because if we’re saying, it’s six more miles of ocean that we have, we have six more potential miles of oil.

Senator Claitor: And other resources and it works out to about a half a billion dollars that I believe belongs to the State of Louisiana, that The Federal Government takes from us and doesn’t give back to us in fair proportion.

Locke Meredith: And we dealt with the whole issue of the inability to deal with the BP fiasco, with the Feds saying what we could and could not do.

Senator Claitor: Correct. Also, our friends on the coast that have been fighting coastal erosion all this time, when we originally had these issues litigated about sixty years ago, they weren’t talking about coastal erosion. You didn’t hear that. And they sure weren’t thinking about drilling in super deep water where they were going to pollute our coast. So the law is supposed to change with the times and it’s my sincere hope that Congress will wake up and do the right thing when we prompt the question to them.

Locke Meredith: Well, if Congress doesn’t, then ultimately, hopefully, the United States Supreme Court will.

Senator Claitor: Correct.

Locke Meredith: Alright, lets talk about the med pay issue that you are progressing.

Senator Claitor: Yeah, I have an insurance bill that I thought was real simple that I filed last year, in that I have medical payments on insurance, on my auto policy, you probably do to.

Locke Meredith: Sure.

Senator Claitor: And we bought, at least in my mind to cover the part that wasn’t covered by my health insurance. And when you go to a hospital in some sort of emergency, you always end up getting that ER bill, Radiologist bill, and Pathology bill.

Locke Meredith: Somebody says you owe me money, your health insurance company didn’t pay everything I’m due.

Senator Claitor: Right, and so you go well alright, I’ll get that money from my med pay. The problem is that Health Insurers go around you and take your med pay money without your knowledge, and apply it to other charges that you’ve incurred within this event. And that just doesn’t seem right or fair to me. Last year that passed out of the senate with no trouble, but The House and their wisdom, killed the bill over there. So that’s just a basic fairness, I pay a premium, I ought to get the results from it. My health Insurer, I pay a premium for that too, they shouldn’t get the benefit of the premium that I paid for my med pay.

Locke Meredith: Dan, thank you very much. I know you’re going to work hard for us at the Capitol and do everything you can to preserve those services.

Senator Claitor: Well Thank you, and I appreciate the service you do.

Locke Meredith: This is Locke Meredith with Legal Lines and our State Senator Dan Claitor thanks for being with us today.

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