THIS ONE CAN AND SHOULD BE STOPPED, HERE AND NOW!by Elliott Stonecipher
How often do taxpayers and supporters of ethical and fair government get to see the birth of a slush-fund of public money? In my experience, such is very rare, right up there with finding and watching the formation of a galaxy. Thank goodness, we don’t need a Hubble telescope to find and see this creation – simply read this article in the Saturday morning Shreveport Times.
Before I write another word, let me say I seriously doubt that either State Representative Henry Burns or core supporters of the Independence Bowl know the history or other important details of what they could be signing on to. Thus, I hope this article will be of particular help to them.
For more than a year, mainly in 2010, I worked, pro bono, on issues surrounding the genesis of this awful political op. In fact, I was present in the room when a public official first laid it out. What is described in this morning’s Times article is the making of a slush-fund. A slush-fund of public money – set-up and used by powerful elected officials to hide many of the facts and details of the fund’s purposes – is never a good thing.
In order for the so-called “Sports Commission” at the core of this op to come into being – with Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover its original architect – the highly successful Shreveport Regional Sports Authority (SRSA) led by Mary Ann Tice had to be killed. As I have previously written, its death was the best example in my career of a true political hit: unrestricted abuse of power for the purposes and/or gain of involved officials. Glover and a smattering of Shreveport City Council members, Caddo Parish Commissioners, past and present legislators, and Tourist & Convention folk knew if they could first de-fund the Sports Authority – which they did – they could prevent Ms. Tice and her Board from defending themselves / SRSA in court. There was a common trait among all “Sports Commission” actors: an honest and effective organization was in their way, and thus had to be removed. What they were willing to put Ms. Tice through to do it was and remains a stain on our community.
For out-of-state readers and those in Louisiana government and our legal system, please note that by any objective measure by any source, the SRSA generated huge amounts of money for the public’s benefit in its years in existence. In fact, its broadly noted success helped kill it: when it so impressively pulled-off the Bassmaster Classic in 2009, some officials with ill-intent soon went into action to harvest the SRSA crop, rich in fact and promise from years of care and nurture and hard work. To do so, they had to put it out of business, both because of underlying statutes by which it was established and operated, and because a friend of Glover had to be in charge. (We believe that person was a just-disbarred attorney, but only an official investigation has the means to confirm that and other related facts.) While Glover had feted Ms. Tice with her own official “day” in Shreveport after her Bassmasters success, she quickly found that she was nowhere near “close” enough to the mayor to prevent what he had set about to do to her, and to SRSA.
Thus, the new “Sports Commission” was formed – with zero public transparency as to its real purpose – and was set up inside the Shreveport Bossier Tourist & Convention Bureau, a public entity already flush with millions of surplus taxpayer dollars. The surplus was generated in recent years by a boom in corporate hotel stays (and taxes paid) via Haynesville Shale activity.
The plan? … to get precisely to the point the Times article details. With the SRSA dead and gone, and the “Sports Commission” plying its trade, find legislators who will not ask too many questions or are in on the deal from the jump, and get them to lead the effort for legislative approval of the local hotel tax increase. Once the governor signs those bills, the “Sports Commission” is in business … with public money fronting and backing it. The real players involved will benefit through third-party, private business deals which are only made possible by the “Commission” bringing sporting events to town. Originally at least, there was even a racial component: the “white guys” reserved events like fishing tournaments for their deals, and the African-Americans, led by Glover, reserved ventures around “black” college football, track meets, etc.
The use of the Independence Bowl was also in the plan from the start. The Bowl wants/needs more money as it is pressed by its many challenges. The Bowl is recognized by the “Sports Commission” people as very popular, with the financial support of many good and politically strong people, and provides this op very real third-party validation. Thus, the Bowl is front-and-center in this morning’s article. Only time will tell if such a deal actually helps or hurts the Independence Bowl.
By now you may have noticed: what these officials and their friends should have done was write up their “business plan” and take it to their favorite bank for loan funding. Of course, such a plan would have of necessity included things no smart public official ever puts on paper. Many of these people have their own money for “investments,” too, but none in his right mind would ever sink it in anything like this. Only our – and our visitors’ – tax money could ever possibly back such a deal. Implicit even in that, however, is that there will be zero transparency.
Oh, and about those visitors. Just how high does the tax on visitors to Shreveport and Bossier have to be before we stop hammering them? Along with likely sales tax increases via the governor in coming months, we may well and soon be to the point that we can tax-punish them enough to chase them all away. Will 15% on a hotel bill be high enough for us, or do we think we can go to 20%? How high is high enough to kill “tourism” here?It will be interesting to see if Governor Jindal sees such a tax as a good idea, given that many of the “outsiders” this group intends to nail are residents of other Louisiana cities and towns. Likewise, since convention and tourist bureaus are his responsibility, it will be interesting to see if Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne – candidate for either the U. S. Senate or governor or both – approves and supports the deal.
At best, this op is bad government, and has already done real damage to real people. Bad government isn’t grown in a petri dish in some mad scientist’s lab in some other place. We grow our own, and this deal is a superb example of how it begins.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited or accepted for this work. This work is protected, and no other use of it is permitted without the written consent of Mr. Stonecipher.