By John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford
With pressure continuing to build for him to resign, Congressman Vance McAllister announced plans recently to remain secluded during the Easter break, but the Swartz Republican has said he’ll be back on the Hill casting votes and attending committee meetings when the congressional recess ends April 28.
For now, McAllister has resumed his social media outreach by going back up on Facebook Monday with a post and photographs from a high school art competition that included artists from his 5th Congressional District. Many of the comments, some of which were deleted, had little to do with art, an early sign that McAllister has a long road ahead.
Citing “extreme hypocrisy” and a “breach of trust,” state Republican Party chairman Roger Villere and Gov. Bobby Jindal have called on McAllister to resign as the scandal from the video of his passionate embrace with a staffer, who’s the wife of a long-time friend, has grown into a national embarrassment for the GOP.
What’s left of McAllister’s compromised credibility rests on his one-word response — “absolutely” — when asked if the kissing incident was his only infidelity. Meanwhile, the rumor mills in Monroe and Washington spin over the possibility of other shoes falling.
According to a new automated phone survey by the Glascock Group, the state senator he so handily defeated in November, fellow Republican Neil Riser of Columbia, would return the favor in a rematch, by a 56-44 percent margin. Even against a far lesser known challenger, state Rep. Chris Hazel, R-Pineville, McAllister trailed, 52-48 percent.
The congressman already is feeling the cold shoulder from his congressional colleagues. In response to his initial letter seeking a FBI investigation into how the video from his district office’s security camera was leaked to The Ouachita Citizen, the stony public silence from House Speaker John Boehner may indicate why McAllister abruptly dropped his request for a probe.
Following Villere’s statement, the speaker told The Washington Post, “I have had a conversation with him. And you know, he’s got decisions that he has to make.”
The most stinging rebuke in the delegation came from Congressman Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who told Politico, “This is just horrible behavior unbecoming of a member of Congress. He’s got to come clean.”
Tellingly, the most supportive statement came from Democratic Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, who praised McAllister’s “rare courage to work across the aisle” and expressed confidence he could “emerge from this a better man and more effective collaborator for the people of Louisiana.” The Democratic Party, of course, would benefit greatly from McAllister running for re-election.
No doubt the least amused colleague is Sen. David Vitter, whose own six-year-old sex scandal is getting dredged up for comparison. Besides that Vitter was an established political leader at the time, the salacious video of McAllister speaks volumes more — The Ouachita Citizen received 290,000 unique visitors to its website in two days — than having one’s phone number found in a madam’s address book.
The other big difference, so far, was that Wendy Vitter, wife and political partner, stood by her man. McAllister’s wife Kelly, yet to be heard from, could have the final say on whether the congressman returns to work or comes home.Budget debates about to get serious
It took a few weeks for the pitfalls to emerge in the governor’s $25 billion budget, but the time of judgment has finally arrived.
The proposal was presented to lawmakers Jan. 24; debate commenced in earnest when the regular session convened March 10; and it must be balanced and passed by adjournment June 2. That’s roughly a month before the budget’s spending plan will be triggered by a new fiscal year July 1.
Over the past four weeks, a campaign of follies have spilled out of the budget process, beginning with the double-counting of money that was collected during last year’s tax amnesty program. That pratfall led to a $43 million hole in the health and hospitals budget.
The administration said it was filled almost immediately with bond premiums and overcollections funds. But unless the administration has more from where that came from, it diminishes the pool of emergency money should any other unanticipated shortfalls occur.
And they have. Since then, Superintendent of Education John White has admitted to another $105 million gap in his budget — $55 million for the current fiscal year and $50 million for the next. He blamed both a “cash-flow” issue that has managed to survive legislative scrutiny without further explanation and a miscalculation in the amount of student enrollment growth. White’s department estimated 3,500 students when the figure was actually more than 7,000.
With nearly $1 billion in short-term financing propping up Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget, the challenges won’t be packed up when he leaves office. In reality, they may even be worse next year, when the federal government is threatening to withhold $307 million in Medicaid money until the administration can further explain its plan for providing health care to Louisiana’s indigent and uninsured.
One of the most worrisome trends is the number of agencies, departments and offices that are no longer relying solely on dedicated and self-generated revenues.
Jindal’s budget takes $12 million in hurricane recovery money and redirects it to the developmentally disabled. It swipes $23 million from the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly — which has gone from $800 million to $30 million in recent years — and moves it over to home and community-based health care.
Another $6 million in wind damages from Hurricane Gustav are being funneled to the Department of Corrections. Then there’s the $50 million the administration wants to remove from the Morial Convention Center to give to the Board of Regents, Office of Elderly Affairs, Department of Education and state libraries.
So with new shortfalls cropping up, non-recurring revenue being used creatively and the usual shifting around of money, what’s a lawmaker to do? Cut. On the chopping block are $60 million worth of pay raises for state workers; $40 million for a higher education incentive fund (known as WISE); and $6 million in new money for colleges and universities.
And it’s not just the operating budget, found in HB 1. The annual construction budget, or HB 2, already has twice the amount of projects than there is capacity. There also hasn’t been a proper Minimum Foundation Program budget passed for elementary and secondary schools since the 2011-12 fiscal year, and the latest incarnation, found in SCR 55, holds just as much doubt.