Does the Scarlet “T” Deter Republicans From Wise Policy Choices?

During the Puritan era, women convicted of adultery were forced to wear the Scarlet “A” on their dresses at all times to publicly shame them for their crime. Today, Republicans who support any form of revenue increase are branded with the Scarlet “T” by their opponents and fervent ant-tax groups for their unpardonable sin of supporting TAXES. Being stuck with the Scarlet T can be fatal to a Republican, particularly during a primary election when GOP candidates are trying to position themselves as furthest to the right with the party faithful.

As a Republican state legislator from Louisiana, I’ve certainly avoided the Scarlet T like the plague, even on measures that I didn’t have a particular problem with, such as extending four cents of the tobacco tax. In fact, the closest I ever came to the Scarlet T was to support a driver’s license fee increase for highway litter abatement, with such a user fee being distinguished from a tax because it funds a specific service. Even then I was attacked by a few as a heretic Republican, despite that fact that the fee increase was only $1 and payable once every four years.

Perhaps the most prominent anti-tax group is the Washington D.C. based Americans for Tax Reform, which challenges federal and state office holders to sign a pledge to “oppose any and all efforts to increase taxes.” Tax increases are interpreted very broadly to include any net revenue increase. The group has its own distinctive Scarlet T for politicians who violate their tax vows, namely public humiliation in its “Hall of Shame.”

I don’t like taxes and ran on an anti-tax, starve the beast platform. But after five years of constant cutting, including slashing 80% from higher education and limiting health care access for the most vulnerable, I’m simply tired of all the continuing carnage.

Unfortunately, state revenues continue to languish. Perhaps recent tax incentives granted to certain industries were generous and created unintended loopholes. I supported them all in the name of economic development, but now question the wisdom of giving away so much money with so little accountability. Surely, closing loopholes and adjusting tax breaks to require an appropriate economic return to the state would not be classified as raising taxes. But since these items raise revenue, they rate a Scarlet T under the strict Americans for Tax Reform criteria since they technically result in feeding the beast.

But does the Scarlet T always result in good policy choices?

In Louisiana, Republicans should be able to rein in generous tax incentives without having to worry about the Scarlet T. On a federal level, Republicans should be able to attack America’s huge deficit with a package that includes modest revenue items in addition to large spending cuts. Why are Republican leaders unwilling to embrace a package that consists of 90% spending cuts and 10% revenue increases for the important goal of deficit reduction? The Scarlet T!

The Americans for Tax Reform website states that the group was founded by Grover Norquist in 1985 at the request of President Reagan. But didn’t President Reagan back several revenue increases during his term in office including the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act to close loopholes from the Economic Recovery Tax Act? Certainly, President Reagan is not listed in the ATR Hall of Shame. The point is that there are appropriate times and appropriate ways to increase revenue.

Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform have done an excellent job calling attention to and helping to limit tax increases. I heartily commend their important efforts in exposing tax increases masquerading as tax reform. But the group should recognize that there are also unwise and unfair corporate windfalls disguised as tax incentives and that reforming these is not necessarily raising taxes and deserving of the Scarlet T.

This week, the Jindal administration is scheduled to release its Executive Budget that will likely contain devastating cuts to higher education and health care, the two main areas of the budget that are not constitutionally protected. Hopefully, we can find responsible ways to mitigate further damage to our important institutions without being deterred by the Scarlet T.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lives Should Trump Politics

Since I announced that I was filing a bill this coming legislative session to ban cell phone use on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (hands-free allowed), my conservative credentials have been challenged by more than a few irate citizens who have called to denounce my support of the government interference in private lives.

I am no fan of big government and still consider myself conservative, but there is a place that government regulation does actually belong, and that is in protecting lives and public safety.

Overboards, or cars tumbling into the water of the 24 mile bridge has increased 1500% in the last five years, a staggering figure that most would agree is quite statistically significant. The primary causes for the increase cited by officials of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway were distracted drivers using cell phones and larger vehicles.

The problem of distracted drivers came as no surprise to me. I think we all have personal anecdotal evidence of witnessing erratic driving, be it in a parking lot or on the highway, in which the driver was, of course, talking on a cell phone.

Actually, I believe that cell phone use should be banned statewide (hands-free allowed), but in my years in the legislature I probably voted for such a bill nearly a dozen times in the House of Representatives and it always seems to get beaten back by the telecommunication industry and misguided libertarians. This is hard to believe as studies have shown that distracted drivers are more dangerous than drunk drivers.

I believe that the vast majority of citizens realize that cell phone use is making our roadways more hazardous and support a cell phone ban. But they are the silent majority who are often drowned out by special interests and vocal citizens who believe that distracted driving is a fundamental constitutional right.

Hands free systems are becoming more user friendly and now included in most vehicles. The systems take some time to set up, but many prefer not to bother with the small set up hassle and continue to drive distracted. Drivers need to realize that their primary duty behind the wheel is not to multi-task, but to operate the vehicle safely, for the benefit of themselves, their passengers and fellow motorists and don’t forget pedestrians.

Several years ago, I supported mandatory helmet use for motorcycles, which passed the legislature and heard many of the same arguments about government interfering in private lives. As with cell phone use, both the statistics and logic converged to conclude that wearing helmets is much safer.

With cell phone use, there is even a more compelling case for regulation, because distracted drivers are endangering other lives and not just their own.

When it comes to public safety, I think that lives should always trump politics and hopefully this summer, Louisiana legislature can make travel on the world’s longest bridge a bit safer.

Posted in Uncategorized

Time for Truth: Is America Still a Democracy?

“Never be afraid to speak your mind, you have one for a reason.” – Anonymous

It’s Time to Finally Tell It Like It Is

As a term limited Louisiana lawmaker serving his last year in office, I have decided that it just might be safe to “tell it like it is” and not varnish the truth with political correctness. Although I’ve always tried to be frank with my political communications, I’ve also been very cautious because a politician’s greatest fear is the seemingly innocuous statement that later bites them on the posterior.

Let me start by saying that I’ve enjoyed my service in the legislature and was honored by the citizens of District 89 for allowing me to serve them for these years. I’m certainly going to miss serving them at the State Capitol as well as interacting with my fellow legislators.

“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” – Winston Churchill

I’ve given a bit of thought about what is wrong with American politics. As we know, polls show a general distrust in elected leaders, increasing disillusionment of the American public in government and a continuing decline in electoral participation.

My observation is that the people who serve in government are not quite as “bad” as people think they are, but that government, including the people serving, is not nearly as “good” as it could be.

Let’s talk about the current state of America’s political system.

TODAY – Special interests have never been more powerful and actual voters more irrelevant. This is particularly the case on a federal level, and also in many states and localities.

A recent Supreme Court decision has effectively gutted campaign finance restrictions on a federal level and have allowed deep-pocketed super PACs to plunder elections, or more politely, disproportionately affect the outcome of elections. The amount of money that super PACs can serve up on a moment’s notice dwarfs anything that the average candidate can contribute themselves or raise on their own from friends, family and business associates. Consequently, candidates and later officeholders pay careful attention to these special interests and super PACS.

As I said earlier, the politicians themselves are not necessarily “bad” people, particularly when they start out. But politics can be quite addicting, with all the attention given to elected officials as well as their proximity to power. Consequently, the primary aim of most politicians is to get elected, climb the ladder and stay elected. Politicians certainly care about the constituents they govern, but generally when push comes to shove, politics will trump policy.

Unfortunately, the voters are actually the pawns of the system, who have to suffer through the endless barrage of slick and not so slick candidate media during elections. Political advertising is primarily designed to brainwash rather than to educate. Just like product marketers trying to find the sweet spot with consumers, political advertising specialists search for the best way to win the voter’s heart and, of course, their vote. Voters are flooded with flattering depictions linking the candidate to positive images and messages, which are often overly simplistic, with the goal of nailing that voter on a subliminal level. The opponent is usually tarred and feathered with negative images and harsh accusations, that are rarely entirely accurate, to persuade voters to dislike, distrust and, of course, vote against the opponent.

As a general rule, the candidate who spends the most money on such brainwashing techniques is coincidentally the one that wins. That is why the special interests and super PACs, which primarily fund the political battles, are so darn powerful.

The real problem is that when small groups have so much influence in running the country, you actually have an oligarchy as opposed to a democracy. In other words, a small group is actually running the country and not the majority of its citizens like it’s supposed to be. The special interests exert a disproportionate influence on the governing process.

Laws are crafted more around certain interests instead of providing the most benefit to the electorate as a whole. Elected leaders tend to avoid an open discussion of the issues or any attempt at consensus building, for fear of offending a special interest or having some candid statement blow up in their face. Given such a highly charged political atmosphere, governing itself is more about posturing then problem-solving, showmanship as opposed to actual solutions and one line slogans as opposed to intelligent and complete political discourse. It’s not the best system, particularly today, to solve pressing problems.

You may be thinking that this guy is coming on pretty strong and and that he sounds like your usual anti-establishment, sky is falling commentator. Can he provide actual examples? Well, I’m going to give you better than an example, an actual real time political system case study that I am part of, which is how Louisiana will tackle its biggest budget crisis in many years. At risk is the state’s higher education and healthcare system. Watch with me as this crisis unfolds and see if I am right or not.

Like I said earlier, I’m going to call it like I see it. I welcome your comments and questions.

Posted in Uncategorized

Legislation Planned to Ban Non Hands-free Cell Phone Use on Causeway Bridge

In the last 20 years, overboard fatalities on the Causeway Bridge have risen from one every five years to currently three per year, a roughly 1500% increase. Nearly all of the fatalities have occurred in the southbound lane, which was the initial span of the causeway built in 1957 and which is 5 inches lower than the northbound span, which was built in 1969. The cost of raising the railing as well as installing safety bays, is in excess of $100 million.

In discussions with the causeway general manager, Carlton Dufrechou, the main reasons for the increase in accidents are the larger vehicles and drivers distracted by electronic devices. We obviously can’t prohibit larger vehicles on the causeway, but we can do something about distracted drivers, by prohibiting cell phone use.

This is why I am planning to file a bill in the 2015 Louisiana Legislative Session, which will ban cell phone use which is not part of a hands-free system on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Although texting is currently prohibited, the legislature has been unable to pass a bill banning total cell phone use, which is not hands free, on a statewide basis. Hopefully, the telecommunications industry will not oppose a local bill addressing these unique circumstances.

For an article regarding this potential legislation click here.

Posted in Uncategorized

New Year’s Resolutions: There’s Still Time to Set Your Goals for the New Year

If you haven’t yet done your New Year’s Eve resolutions, there’s still time to compile your 2015 goals in the opening days of the New Year. I used to be very diligent about having mine done by New Year’s Eve and my resolution setting process was surprisingly quick and painless. I would start with my goals from the previous year, which were quite extensive and meticulously detailed in all the important life areas, such as Career, Health, Family, Financial, et.al. Then, I would make a few edits and save them on my laptop as my goals for the current year. I would usually not review these goals again until December 31st, when I would edit the list and save it for the next year.

After many years of this routine, I realized that while my goal list itself was well thought out, few of the goals were actually getting accomplished. For example, while my weight had fluctuated a bit for the good at the start of the year, my hard earned losses never seemed to last or even get close to my written goal. Also, my bad habits that I had pledged to extinguish all seemed to be alive and well.

I wanted this year to be different, so I brain stormed from all of the goal setting literature and programs I had carefully studied, but seldom practiced, over the years, I was in search of a new and improved, guaranteed to succeed, goal setting process for 2105.

My thought process was assisted by an excellent book I happened to be reading by Kelly McGonigal entitled The Willpower Instinct, which blamed the lack of willpower as the main culprit for goal achievement failure. But it’s really not our fault, because humans are created with a brain that is essentially split between following reason or responding to pleasure seeking impulses, sort of like a Jekyll and Hyde dilemma or having an Angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.The good news is that there are techniques, call them gimmicks, which can help people boost their self discipline and could be a missing link between the mechanical process of setting goals and the challenges of managing your behavior.

Let’s begin with our new and improved goal setting process for 2015.

Setting Goals
Many goal setting advocates recommend that goals need to be in writing and SMART.
• Specific
• Measurable
• Attainable
• Relevant
• Time-bound
For example, setting a goal of losing 10 pounds by April 1st is much more preferable than setting a general goal of losing weight. You need to be specific about your personal, career and family goals.

Action Plan
Once the goals are set, the next item is an action plan on meeting the goals, which generally involves certain activities. For example, activities for weight loss would include diet and exercise. Each specific goal can be broken down into a series of activities that you can take to meet the goal, whether these activities are done once or even on a daily basis. The point is that you generally can’t achieve a goal all in one day, but can take steps toward your goal every day. Often, we are overpowered by goals that may seem too intimidating. The trick is to break them up into manageable activities and then to schedule those activities.

Staying on track
However, the hardest part about goal setting is staying on track and that is where some of the gimmicks can help you move closer to your goals.
1) rewrite your goals every day, preferably the morning: I know this might seem a little over-the-top but it certainly keeps your goals in the forefront and is highly recommended by number of self-help experts.
2) visualize accomplishing the goal and set a reward for yourself. One saying is that in order to achieve, you must believe it and keep your destination alive and exciting for you. This in turn helps bolster your self discipline and makes you less inclined to be distracted.
3) keep track of your progress: this also keeps you spurred on but the key is to remain focused on your destination and not become complacent with your initial success.

These are just a few of my thoughts on the matter and I wish you the best of luck in the new year. I incidentally am using a software called single – step (www.single-step.com) to assist and I’ll let you know how I do in 2015.

Posted in Uncategorized

Lessons from the Destrehan Sex Scandal

If you hadn’t heard of Destrehan, Louisiana before, you probably certainly have now. Reports of a male Destrehan high school student having a tryst with two of his female teachers have been in the national spotlight since the story erupted last week and has competed with ISIS and Ebola as the lead stories for several major media outlets.

While the story is shocking, we really shouldn’t be particularly shocked in an age where the media glorifies lewd conduct by celebrities and makes celebrities out of others due to outlandish behavior. In fact, celebrity sex scandals are so commonplace that there is even a band called Celebrity Sex Scandal and one of their songs is entitled “Ode to Katy Perry,” a tribute to a popular but controversial American singer, whose own breakthrough hit is entitled, “I Kissed a Girl.” And, of course, there are the Kardashian sex tapes, Miley Cyrus twerking and other types of outlandish behavior by celebrities that occurs on an almost daily basis.

I’m certainly not excusing the conduct of the two teachers involved, who violated a trust that is considered sacred to the teacher-student relationship. Teachers are supposed to be role models for their students, not menage a trois partners. But are we really surprised by this conduct when the popular culture and mainstream media fill the airwaves with stories that would even make the ancient Romans blush?

Another lesson from the scandal is that parents need to talk to their children about what parents don’t particularly like to talk to their children about. If parents don’t try to educate their children about sex, then their only teacher will be constant blare of social media, the airwaves and the popular culture, which are all pushing sex.

Parents also need to take the time to understand, listen, be available and be a friend to their children, who are often struggling with puberty and peer pressure. Otherwise, kids may be driven to seek affection and attention in ways that could knock their young lives off track before they even get started.

It is apparent that the Destrehan sex scandal, which is just getting started, is going to hurt and possibly ruin many lives, which include the parents, spouse and children of the accused. Sex is a powerful part of our culture and claims many victims. We need to do our best to protect our loved ones from its lure.

Posted in Uncategorized

Department of Education Response on Common Core Concerns

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I am doing my best to get to the bottom of common core. The attached is a response from the dept of education that I requested on this important issue to address some of the concerns waged. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Department of Education Response

Thank you for soliciting information on this important topic, Representative Burns. Louisiana went through a very thorough review process to adopt the Common Core State Standards in 2010, involving ten different Louisiana education organizations, numerous reviewers, and several public meetings. All believed the standards represented an increase in rigor and opportunity for our students. Since the adoption of the standards, Louisiana’s educators and students have been working hard each year to transition to the higher expectations. This presentation offers a detailed overview of that process, from 2009 through the 2013-2014 school year:

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/webinars/ccss-implementation—oct-2013-bese.pdf?sfvrsn=4

We are excited about the progress that our educators and students have made, and we are committed to staying the course with them. Change is never easy, but we owe it to our students to strive for the very best education for them. They are just as capable as students in any other state. We are already seeing a tremendous improvement in the quality of teaching in the classroom, and also in student achievement. Now is not the time to revert back to lower expectations.
To provide ongoing support in this last year of transition, the Louisiana Department of Education is continuing to provide a wealth of information for teachers and parents through newsletters, teacher trainings, and the LDOE website, which includes the actual Common Core standards, parent guides, instructional resources, our state transition plan, frequently asked questions, information on assessments, curriculum and assessment guides, and much more:

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/academics/common-core-state-standards/louisiana’s-transition-to-higher-expectations

Some have recently questioned the way the state is scoring student assessments throughout this period of transition. LEAP and iLEAP tests have always been scored to mirror results Louisiana achieves on the National Assessment of
Education Progress (NAEP), so as to provide a reliable basis for grading the tests. Results in Spring 2014 were no different; students scored roughly as they did on the NAEP. Here is a detailed fact sheet explaining how this grading is done.

http://www.louisianabelieves.com/docs/default-source/links-for-newsletters/scoring-statewide-assessments-overview.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Posted in Uncategorized
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.