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••• (Update) LaForge issues statement on earmarks

November 17th, 2010 Comments off

An update with my column from this week’s Mississippi Business Journal print edition as well as some links from other stories about LaForge’s comments …

LaForge delivers thoughtful argument in earmark battle

Bill LaForge believes efforts to eliminate earmarks by the incoming U.S. House GOP majority is “short-sighted.”

It was just a couple of weeks ago I wrote a column about LaForge and his recently released book titled “Testifying Before Congress,” which is gaining accolades from across the country.

The Cleveland native is past national president of the Federal Bar Association and is a frequent speaker on the topics of government and Congressional relations, communicating with Congress, the Congressional hearings process and the Congressional appropriations process.

LaForge is a main figure on Capitol Hill, having served as chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and culminated his government career as chief legislative counsel and chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran. Previously he served as Congressional liaison for the Peace Corps and as a legislative assistant to Mississippi Rep. David Bowen.

So, when he issued a statement last week critical of the anti-earmark wave, it should make all of us stand up and take notice.

His point was that eliminating earmarks will not change budget numbers, going so far as to say eliminating earmarks gives all of the budgeting power to the executive branch.

LaForge’s viewpoint is quite different from the one popular with the masses out there.

But LaForge isn’t one to stick his neck on the line for the hell of it.
He understands the process of Washington and the process of the national budget.

Republicans have abandoned the you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours earmark process, Democrats who still hold a majority in the Senate have to decide whether they’ll try to prop up a system that seems to be collapsing all around them.

With the GOP dead set against earmarks and President Barack Obama urging a crackdown, defenders of earmarks — mostly Democrats but with a few Republicans mixed in — are swimming against a powerful tide.

Earmarking allows lawmakers to steer federal spending to pet projects in their states and districts. Earmarks take many forms. They can be road projects, improvements to home district military bases, sewer projects, economic development projects and even those Predator drone aircraft that are used to kill terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

They can also include tax breaks for a handful of specific companies, like a tax cut proposed years ago for manufacturers of hunting arrows.

The reason Capitol Hill’s favor factory has churned out so many pork-barrel projects so successfully for so long is pretty simple: Everybody did it, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

Not anymore.

Critics like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, have railed against earmarks for years, even as they proliferated when Republicans controlled Congress. Slowly, the tide has turned in their favor.

Boehner promises that next year’s spending bills won’t have earmarks. The opinion of House Democrats doesn’t matter much since they’ll be stripped of most of their power under a Boehner-led regime.

But it was last week’s surprise announcement by Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in support of a two-year moratorium on earmarks that fundamentally shifted the paradigm. Until then, McConnell had been a strong defender of the practice. Banning earmarks wouldn’t save money and would shift too much power to Obama, McConnell said in the days after the midterm Congressional elections.

Despite deep misgivings among many old-timers, Republican senators followed McConnell’s lead and endorsed a nonbinding moratorium on earmarks by a voice vote in a closed meeting.

LaForge says this direction is the wrong one.

“ … McConnell … went along with the party’s conservative wing,” he said. “This is all in reaction to the election and to voter interests in the government, especially the Congress, doing everything possible to reduce spending and get the financial house in order. Congressional Republican leaders feel it is necessary to restore trust in government by the American people.”

Earmarks are not ‘new’ money, LaForge went on to say.

“They only direct where the money will be spent. Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent.”

A shareholder at Winstead Sechrest & Minick, P.C., specializing in government relations/public policy, LaForge makes a great argument, and a reasoned, thoughtful one.

If only we had more reasoned, thoughtful arguments in Washington, we would be better off.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

••• Other links with similar stories …

A lobbyist’s defense of earmarks: They make the government work

That Earmarks Ban? Mostly For Show

FACT CHECK: Ban on pet projects mostly symbolic

Our Opinion: Doling out our cash

Bennett: Earmark ban good politics, bad policy

Earmark reform won’t dent the deficit

••••••••

Here is the original post from last week …

Cleveland native Bill LaForge, a past national president of the Federal Bar Association, has issued a statement on the topic of earmarks that has become a national issue and rallying cry in the recent national elections.

LaForge calls the efforts to eliminate earmarks as “shortsighted”, giving all of the budgeting power to the executive branch.

LaForge is a frequent speaker on the topics of government and Congressional relations, communicating with Congress, the Congressional hearings process and the Congressional appropriations process.

“Earmarks are not “new” money,” LaForge said in his statement. “They only direct where the money will be spent.

“Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent.”

A shareholder at Winstead Sechrest & Minick, P.C., specializing in government relations/public policy, LaForge has been a main figure on Capitol Hill as chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and culminated his government career as chief legislative counsel and chief of staff to Sen. Thad Cochran. Previously he served as Congressional liaison for the Peace Corps and as a legislative assistant to Mississippi Rep. David Bowen.

Below is his statement, in full …

I decided to issue my own statement on earmark reform:

Yesterday the Senate Republican conference agreed on a two-year moratorium on earmarks. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly changed his position of supporting earmarks, went along with the party’s conservative wing, and embraced the idea of a moratorium, thus ensuring the endorsement of the Republican caucus, and avoiding a bitter and devisive intra-party battle. This is all in reaction to the election and to voter interests in the government, especially the Congress, doing everything possible to reduce spending and get the financial house in order. Congressional Republican leaders feel it is necessary to restore trust in government by the American people.

However, in reality, it is a mere symbolic gesture…a political reaction and a “feel-good” outcome for politicians who believe that they must listen to the American people and do their will on this issue. It will have NO impact on the federal budget. Earmarks are not “new” money. They only direct where the money will be spent. Essentially, they are directives from Congress on how taxpayers’ dollars should be spent, rather than allowing executive branch agencies to make all the decisions. The same amount of dollars will still be on the table and will be spent. The sad difference now is that Congress is abdicating its constitutional responsibility and privilege regarding the power of the purse, and turning over all the decisions to the executive branch. To me, this is very short-sighted. But it is an issue rife with demagoguery and political messaging. Politicians are falling all over themselves trying to outdo their rivals on this issue, so you will note that an unlikely coalition involving the President and congressional Republicans is having a field day with this issue. For many, perception has become reality, and it appears that the moratorium is real, at least for now. The Senate action by Republicans comes on the heels of similar action by House Republicans earlier this year. It remains to be seen how congressional Democrats in both houses will respond and what they will do next. It is possible that all or some Democrats, and possibly even some Republicans, will continue to request earmarks. Politically I would envision Republicans making any Democratic earmarks a big issue during the next campaign. Hell hath no fury like a reformed earmarker! Only time will tell.

Carter pinch hits with plethora of items

November 16th, 2010 Comments off


Not a way to whip up business

Mississippi’s business and civic leaders want to sell the Magnolia State as a great place to do business, to raise a family, to educate children. So excuse them for the revulsion they must feel at the cell phone video that aired on CNN, YouTube and everywhere else the other day.
Viewing a belt-wielding adult lashing a bent over youngster inside Jackson’s Murrah High School gym had to draw a range of reactions – horrible, terrible, disgusting, pick one. It’s equally as hard to shake the sound reverberations that come with a belt striking skin time and again. That popping sound, like a firearm going off, gave testament to the pain the adult inflicted on the child.
The leaders knew in that instant that with each strike, the image enhancement they’ve managed for Mississippi suffered some. How do you sell the state as an economic development destination when it is portrayed from Boston to Bakersfield as a condoner of violence against children and an employer of bullies.
As for countering this sort of thing, let’s start with the Murrah basketball coach, school officials and the daily newspaper putting the euphemisms back where they belong, back where they can’t do any harm.
When Aunt Tillie dies you can say she “passed away” That harms no one and still reflects the finality of her departure.
When you pull out a 5-pound weightlifting belt and start wailing on a child, you aren’t “paddling” the child. Nor are you administering “corporal punishment.” You’re whipping the child. You’re abusing the child.
Fact is, you’re assaulting the child.
Business must make it its business to emphasize that message to school officials across the state.

Cadence may return to writing home loans

Mississippi homebuyers could have another mortgage option this spring. The $1.7 billion Cadence Bank departed the mortgage market as the home lending crisis worsened. But with its planned acquisition by Houston banking investment group Community Bancorp, Cadence is mulling a revival of its mortgage business. “Yes, we hope to return to that,” said Donna Rupp, Cadence spokeswoman. ” It’s under consideration. ”
The more immediate business ahead for the Starkville regional bank and its board of directors is a Dec. 9 meeting of shareholders who will decide whether to take the Community Bancorp deal. Shareholders stand to make $2.50 a share – but that’s the end of the upside. After that, Cadence goes private and shareholders are out of the picture.
One shareholder, RSD Capital, an investment management firm registered in Delaware since 1998, is suing with a claim the deal’s terms are all sugar and spice and all things nice for Cadence executives and the board at the expense of shareholders.
The suit, filed in the New York Supreme Court by attorney Richard Brualdi, points an accusatory finger at Cadence’s board, charging that the directors concealed details in a proxy statement to public shareholders in order to complete “a transaction which protects and advances the interests of Cadence’s management team who are using this opportunity to benefit themselves.”
Of Cadence’s11.9 million shares, bank executives and directors who make up the “insider” investors own 10.59 percent.
Brualdi hasn’t returned several MBJ phone calls seeking to clarify some of the elements of the suit. So we’ll have to go on scratching our heads and wondering about the claim that top Cadence executives get big, big bonuses once the bank is free of TARP debt and a federal regulatory consent order to raise capital reserves. The merger deal does give Cadence Chairman & CEO Lewis Mallory Jr., and three other key executives payments of three times their annual salaries and a year’s worth of health insurance premiums – but Community Bancorp would have to fire them in the first year after the merger. And keeping the executive team intact and the rank-and-file on the payroll is a big reason Cadence says it made the deal in the first place.

Hello Columbus: Renasant set to open on Main Street

Renasant Bank is telling the Great Recession “you’re not the boss of me.”
In fact, the recession hasn’t called many shots at all in the Tupelo boardroom of Renasant.
The $4.2 billion banking company is ignoring the banking sector slowdown as it completes an acquisition and branch tri-fecta for the year. Renasant, which has 75 banking, lending and insurance offices, took over a failed bank in north Georgia in the summer, opened a branch in New Albany in May and later opened a new branch in a Birmingham suburb. Wednesday it officially opens its new Columbus branch downtown at 905 Main St. They’ll cut the ribbon at 8:30 in the morning with lots of hoopla.
“We see the Golden Triangle as a solid banking market with tremendous growth potential,” says Scott Cochran, Renasant Mississippi Division president.
The Triangle is indeed a coveted market. When Trustmark announced its ill-fated acquisition of Cadence Bank, it noted the prosperity to be gained in the economically resurgent region and Cadence’s long relationships with businesses and individual account holders there. We all know that the story had a less-than-happy ending for Trustmark, as Cadence jilted the Jackson-based regional for a subsequent offer from a Houston banking investment group.
— Ted Carter, Mississippi Business Journal

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Education is our worst business ranking

November 12th, 2010 Comments off

In this month’s Atlantic Magazine, education is presented, front and center.

Unfortunately for Mississippi, the truth is not kind.

We’ve known for some time how this story ends nationwide: only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan. But what happens when we break down the results? Do any individual U.S. states wind up near the top?

Incredibly, no. Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list. The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17. Minnesota also makes it into the upper-middle tier, followed by Vermont, New Jersey, and Washington. And down it goes from there, all the way to Mississippi, whose students—by this measure at least—might as well be attending school in Thailand or Serbia.

You can read the rest of the story here, but it is more of the same.

What I don’t understand is why education isn’t more of a priority for our state government.

Are we spending enough money or too much? That isn’t the question.

Education in Mississippi needs an overhaul, right now. Until we are willing to blow up the current model — from Pre-K to our universities — without regard to political consequences, we are going to be mired in the same education environment for the foreseeable future.

Is there anyone out there with the guts to try?

If not, Mississippi will continue to be compared to Thailand, where the large-scale sex industry flourishes and education is on the back burner.

Will Global Obesity Summit break new ground?

November 10th, 2010 Comments off

How phat is it to have some of the preeminent medical minds in the world in Mississippi for the next couple of days to talk about how fat we are in Mississippi?

The Global Obesity Summit began in Jackson this morning with Gov. Haley Barbour welcoming, via satellite, everyone to the Hospitality State in an effort to shine a spotlight on the ever expanding problem of obesity in Mississippi as well as across the nation.

Most of us have battled with being overweight at some point in our lives, including our governor, who, along with wife Marsha, spearheaded an effort to get Mississippians walking. The governor lost a few pounds himself, along the way. However, like so many normal folks, he has gain it back and makes his comments knowing full well the difficulty of attacking obesity in Mississippi.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership are the sponsors of this three-day event, and really smart people are going to be talking about a lot of mind-bending advancements in medicine and health care techniques.

However, I can’t help but think back to my days as editor of the Delta Democrat Times in Greenville a few years ago, when we hosted the Delta Economic Summit.

The keynote address that day came from Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who is generally thought as the Father of the Physical Fitness Movement in the United States.

He is the founder and chairman of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Texas and, according to his website, is credited with motivating more people to exercise in pursuit of good health than any other person.

That day, five years ago, Cooper stood before the most prominent business leaders of the Mississippi Delta and preached the gospel of health and fitness. He described how those folks in that room could make a difference in an area that is the epicenter of obesity in the state that is the epicenter for obesity in the United States.

He was so inspiring, I along with then DDT publisher John Clark, instituted an incentive-laden walking program at our plant. Others left the Delta Economic Summit that day with similar intentions.

Five years later, Cooper is back in Mississippi to talk to a larger, yet no less influential, set of business and government leaders. Gov. Barbour again kicked off the events, this time, however, not talking about the importance of fried catfish to the people of Mississippi.

Maybe if Gov. Barbour has learned a lesson, everyone else can too.

Entergy can’t win for losing

November 8th, 2010 Comments off

Entergy has had a tough last few weeks.

First, the Justice Department launched an investigation into its business practices. Last week, we reported that Entergy was looking to sell its nuclear reactor in Vermont, called the Vermont Yankee.

Now, it appears, there is more bad news.

In a story appearing on our website this morning, technicians at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant will begin work today to fix a pipe that leaked radioactive water and forced the plant to shut down.

As someone put it to me earlier this morning, “They’re just not doing too well, lately. … It’s like, you announce you are going to sell your car, only to have it break down the next week. …”

Thad Cochran oinks when he walks … hand out the pork

November 3rd, 2010 Comments off

I received an interesting e-mail this morning from one of my Delta State alumni buddies in regard to the city of Cleveland receiving $1.1 million for construction of a boulevard and exercise trail in and around many athletic venues at DSU.

U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., pushed the project and made sure DSU was part of $3.3 million from the Federal Highway Administration for four projects in Mississippi.

But here is the question from my friend, who is a former DSU athlete with multiple Okra degrees …

I know this will look good, but is this “Pork Barrel?” If Cleveland wants something like this should it not be for them to do and not the tax payers? I support DSU and Cleveland, but I have to wonder how this is the taxpayers’ responsibility. I know that this type thing goes on at all of the universities, but that doesn’t make it right. Will this generate money back into the community and state to off set this expense? “Pork Barrel” to one is economic development to another. We have to start economic recovery somewhere, but where and when.

“Pork Barrel” should be stopped every where, at cities, towns and universities.

My response:

It is pork … But there two things that DSU and Thad can hang their hat on …

1. It’s transportation grant money set aside for something like this … The feeling would be that if DSU hadn’t gotten it, someone else would have … The money was budgeted for some type of project like this.

2. Safety … One of the reasons the grant was given was to alleviate game day traffic through a residential neighborhood, therefore reducing the chance of pedestrians being injured. It also solves a problem with folks in that neighborhood who have problems getting in and out of their houses during football and baseball season.

Having said all of that … It is still pork … And Cochran manages to divert more pork dollars than any other senator in congress … I have found it interesting in the last couple years with the uproar of the Tea Party and spending in Washington that Cochran has never been a target. Why is that? He is the free-est of free spenders, but because we are a poor state, he gets away with it. We are willing to hammer Gene Taylor for being aligned with Nancy Pelosi when he really isn’t. Yet Cochran gets a free pass.

I am for the the boulevard, but you are right.

Thanks,

Ross

Get a competitive advantage; take a nap at work

November 2nd, 2010 Comments off

One of my favorite websites is the Harvard Business Review. It has great content. Plus, it makes me feel more smarter, having read something with Harvard attached to it.

So, when I read in a recent article that taking naps at work were key to gaining a competitive advantage, I knew I had found the advice of a lifetime.

And, there’s no one better at taking a nap than me … You know, a little after lunch, there’s that fading feeling. Well, just crawl under the desk in your office (or put your head down on your cubicle desk), close your eyes for about 20 minutes and awake rejuvenated and ready to take on the world.

If you are reading this and you work at the Mississippi Business Journal, this is a joke.

Otherwise, wow, what a great idea.

Here are a few hints from the HBR article to help get you on the way to a more restful workday.

Happy napping!

  • Schedule a regular time for your nap — between 1 and 3 p.m. is ideal — to increase the likelihood that you’ll take it.
  • If you have your own office, create a cheeky sign for your door to set expectations others. As in: “Short nap in process to insure high afternoon productivity.”
  • If you work in a cubicle, see if you can find a quiet space for your nap, even if it means leaving the building and taking your nap on a park bench, at a Starbucks or in a local library.
  • Turn off your technology and set an alarm for 20 or 30 minutes.
  • Close your eyes (obviously) but don’t try too hard to fall asleep. Instead, breathe in through your nose to a count of three, and out through your mouth to a count of six. Even if you don’t fall asleep, this way of breathing will ensure you’ll get a rejuvenating rest.

See the complete story here …

Port Gibson forced to turn out the lights

November 1st, 2010 Comments off

Pay attention if you are driving through Port Gibson at night.

The city has decided to disable an undetermined amount of street lights in a cost-cutting effort.

In an announcement in the weekly newspaper, The Port Gibson Reveille, the city said, “Due to the current economic crisis, the Mayor and City Board are having to make some difficult decisions regarding the city budget.”

One of those apparently is to turn off street lights.

“Right now, we have more than 400 street lights — at least twice as many as a town similar in size to Port Gibson,” the announcement stated.

The city is going to keep lights on at major intersections and around schools.

“The safety and security of our citizens are our number one objective,” the announcement said.

One wonders when the city will decided the “crisis” is over.

Tupelo hotels back in business

November 1st, 2010 Comments off

Dennis Seid of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal had a piece in their Sunday paper about the proliferation of new hotel construction in Tupelo.

Apparently, there had been big plans just before the recession hit, which were put on hold. However, the last six months to a year, some of those plans are slowly coming back.

Good story to check out. … Click here for the rest.

MDOT: Commissioner Bill Minor has died

November 1st, 2010 Comments off

According to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, northern district commissioner Bill Minor has died. He was 68.

MDOT spokeswoman Carrie Adams says Minor was pronounced dead at 9:15 a.m. Monday at Biloxi Regional Medical Center. He had been attending a national transportation conference in Biloxi.

Adams says Minor’s body was being transported to his hometown of Holly Springs, and funeral arrangements were pending.

Minor was first elected as one of three transportation commissioners in November 2003. Before that, he served 20 years in the Mississippi Senate, representing Marshall, Benton and DeSoto counties.

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