Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne told the Bureau of Governmental Research today that the state will have no choice but to make additional cuts to departments and agencies of state government starting in January 2017 to balance the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends June 30. It’s simply a matter of cash flow, Dardenne explained.
For example, Louisiana’s mineral revenue has fallen 32 percent since the 1981-82 budget year. For every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, the state enjoys a $12 million benefit. The number of tax credits and exemptions for businesses has also significantly reduced the amount of funds available to the state annually. Since 2008, the state has relied on the use of one-time money and fund sweeps to fill the budget gaps.
Dardenne bemoaned the fact that Louisiana has the highest state sales tax in the U.S. He feels that short term the Great Flood of 2016 will be a drain on the state’s budget but will increase sales tax revenues in the near future. He also believes that Governor Edwards will be seeking more accountability on future exemptions and tax credits to ensure that businesses receiving them produce “quantifiable” results.
Citizens should expect more dramatic cuts before the end of the fiscal year, said Dardenne. “We’re sitting on a ticking time bomb,” he explained. There’s a shortage in revenues and not enough money to satisfy expenditures. He wished that Governor Edwards had more discretion on budget cuts to manage short falls.
Dardenne explained that Governor Edwards has created several task forces which are hard at work identifying new solutions to infrastructure and long-term funding issues. Their results should be available in the coming months.
BOTH SIDES EXPRESSED VALID POINTS IN BAIL BONDS REDUCTION DISCUSSION
No one believes that most non-violent offenders charged with minor municipal offenses should languish in jail for days or weeks prior to their first appearance before a judge simply because they lack the financial resources to post even the smallest bond. Still, the City Council must determine how to balance the need to give justice to everyone versus the need for basic safety in our city.
Under a new ordinance introduced by Councilmember Susan Guidry at Monday’s packed Criminal Justice Committee meeting, municipal offenders charged with crimes such as theft, assault, disturbing the peace or cruelty to animals would be released immediately without bond. Those arrested for domestic violence battery or carrying an illegal weapon would have to wait 24 hours but then they would also be automatically released without bond.
Though Guidry was well-intentioned, councilmembers and the public naturally expressed concerns. Among the questions was what the effect might be on police morale and discipline if defendants who flee from NOPD or resist arrest will go free as soon as they are booked. Also asked was how many times offenders would be able to hit the no-bond revolving door before it closes. The legislation as introduced set no limits.
Councilmembers Nadine Ramsey and Jason Williams commented that the legislation addresses the problem one step too late – continuing the excessive use of arrests for minor offenses rather than issuing summonses. Ramsey and Williams expressed concern about how the ordinance applies to those charged with domestic abuse battery.
Councilmember Stacy Head also voiced reservations prior to voting to move the bill to the full council. The legislation shifted the tremendous burden of returning fugitives to court to the NOPD at a time when our police force is already spread too thin.
Releasing the vast majority of non-violent offenders on their own recognizance (ROR) with the promise that they will voluntarily appear back in court may sound good but doesn’t always work. Our municipal court judges should be able to use their discretion – and not be forced – when determining if a secured cash bond is appropriate and what the bond amount should be. Judges have the training and experience to better evaluate which individuals are more likely to return on their own and which need “encouragement” to return.
The fact remains that many of the poor who are too poor to pay $71.50 (the average cost for a $500 municipal bond) are also probably too poor to pay a fine if convicted. These individuals could have many mental health issues that must be addressed. It’s often just easier for them to go underground until the police catch them again.
A group of African-American ministers signed a letter outlining the need for additional drug treatment and mental health counseling so that intervention and prevention could make a real difference in peoples’ lives. A quick fix is not the answer, the ministers said.
As the Council rethinks this reform legislation, perhaps it should form a new working group to study best practices and include stakeholders from throughout the community. Do we want to be a city where someone who abuses animals is rushed out time and time again only to abuse more animals? Do we want victims of domestic abuse to fear defendants may never appear in court because they are not being forced to appear?
No one should languish in jail just because they are poor. But in reforming our criminal justice system, we have to be smart on crime and ensure that our court system upholds justice for victims and perpetrators alike, and that our community’s safety is always the top priority.
DUELING FUNDRAISERS FUEL CRIMINAL COURT RACE
In what was probably the biggest gathering of this year’s campaign season, more than 1000 people turned out for Judge Paul Bonin’s event at Southport Wednesday night. Bonin is seeking to replace retired judge Frank Marullo who came to wish his friend good luck.
Other attendees included seafood king Al Scramuzza, Harahan Police Chief Tim Walker, Republican heavy hitter Louis Gurvich, Lee Fernandez, Felicia Kahn, Noel Cassanova, lawyers Michael Winsberg and Danielle Trostorff, Algiers PAC chairman Thomas Jasper, and former judges Terry Alarcon and Michael Bagneris.
Representatives from all the organizations who have endorsed Bonin were present including the Greater New Orleans Republicans, Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee, IDEA, IWO, the New Orleans Coalition, and the AFL-CIO represented by leader Tiger Hammond and many of his affiliate chapters. Lots of sitting judges from civil and criminal district courts also enjoyed the live music, open bar, and ample buffet.
Last night attorney Dennis Moore who is also seeking Marullo’s seat greeted donors at the Italian-American Cultural Center. Moore’s supporters include Councilmembers James Gray and Jason Williams, State Rep. Gary Carter, Algiers Constable Ed Shorty and Algiers Clerk of Court Darren Lombard. Also on board are Clarence Roby, John Fuller, Glenda Spears, Kimya Holmes, Martin Irons, Eusi Phillips, Lawrence Galle and Krystal Ancar.
Danae Columbus has had a 30-year career in public relations, including stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board. Among the recent candidates who have been represented by her public relations firm are Foster Campbell, Regina Bartholomew, City Council members Stacy Head and Jared Brossett, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell.