Rep. Richard H. Baker (R-Baton Rouge) has proposed the "Louisiana Recovery Corporation" which would spend up to $80 billion to buy up property, pay off the banks, and the like: "A Big Government Fix-It Plan for New Orleans". It was passed over late last year, but Baker's hopeful it will be approved this year. Join the NYT as they spot conservatives in the mist:
...The passage of the bill has become increasingly important to Louisiana because the state lost out to the greater political power of Mississippi last month when Congress passed a $29 billion aid package for the Gulf states region. The package gave Mississippi about five times as much per household in housing aid as Louisiana received - a testimony to the clout of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a former Republican National Committee chairman, and Senator Thad Cochran, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
Louisiana officials say they were forced to go along with the appropriation, because they may not have received an aid package at all otherwise. But now they are focused even more intently on Mr. Baker's buyout bill; many economists here say there may be no alternative to buyouts for homeowners who cannot make mortgage payments on ruined properties...
Under his plan, the Louisiana Recovery Corporation would step in to prevent defaults, similar in general nature to the Resolution Trust Corporation set up by Congress in 1989 to bail out the savings and loan industry. It would offer to buy out homeowners, at no less than 60 percent of their equity before Hurricane Katrina. Lenders would be offered up to 60 percent of what they are owed.
To finance these expenditures, the government would sell bonds and pay them off in part with the proceeds from the sale of land to developers.
Property owners would not have to sell, but those who did would have an option to buy property back from the corporation. The federal corporation would have nothing to do with the redevelopment of the land; those plans would be drawn up by local authorities and developers...
Bush is interested, but his rebuilding czar Donald E. Powell isn't so convinced. However, Walter Isaacson's Louisiana Recovery Authority supports it, as do many... Democratic politicians. On the other hand, it was "shunned by many conservatives" in the House.
The LAT offers "Image Problem Is Costing Louisiana" about how not too many DC politicians want to go out of their way for LA because of LA's reputation and because of Sen. Mary Landrieu's "in-your-face approach":
After battling in Congress for months to get more federal money for their hurricane-ravaged state, some Louisiana officials have come to believe they are up against something more than concerns about the budget deficit or conflicting visions of reconstruction.
Maybe, they speculate, their colleagues just don't trust them.
Maybe they are right...
When asked about past and current corruption in their state, LA officials play a mean game of tu quoque, bringing up Tom Delay, Bill Frist, and Jack Abramoff. But:
But some lawmakers say the Louisiana delegation has only itself to blame for the mounting tension over the federal government's obligations for rebuilding Louisiana.
They single out Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), who has made angry speeches on the Senate floor and kept the chamber in session overnight in October, holding up other legislation, as she pressed her colleagues for more aid. Some Republicans say her tone, which they describe as "shrill," has alienated her colleagues and undercut her efforts.
Privately, lawmakers unfavorably compare Landrieu's in-your-face approach to that of the senators from the other heavily Katrina-damaged state, Mississippi. Republicans Thad Cochran and Trent Lott have gotten high marks for working quietly behind the scenes to steer resources to their constituents.
Some Louisiana officials, however, contend the key difference between their state and Mississippi is political. Mississippi is a heavily Republican state, and its GOP governor, Haley Barbour, has close ties to the White House. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco is a Democrat, and the wrecked city of New Orleans is a Democratic stronghold...
For her part:
Sen. Landrieu said she did not believe that her actions, or those of anyone else in the state's congressional delegation, were to blame for what she saw as the federal government's failure to respond to Louisiana's needs.
"I'm not sure it was ever the intention of this administration to really help," she said. "I would say that really it's a pattern of this administration to promise a lot and deliver very little - to pretend like you care, but when it comes down to really putting your money where your mouth is, it doesn't happen."
Months after the hurricane, many survivors still are living in hotels and other temporary shelters, and many remain financially devastated.
"I'm ready to start a revolution," said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). "This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven't gotten squat."
And, Louisiana Recovery Authority Vice Chairman Walter Isaacson says LA isn't asking for $250 billion any more. It's now a more miserly $50 billion.
Huge stretches of the city are fallow: no power, no water, no sewer system, no life. Half the city workforce has been laid off, not a single public school is open, and the police department is being run by an acting chief after its former head quit. Mayor C. Ray Nagin is forced to hold town hall meetings in Baton Rouge, 70 miles away.
The litany of problems faced by New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is unmatched by any other U.S. city in recent history. Billions of dollars in public and private funds are going to be spent on rebuilding New Orleans, but those efforts could be undermined by forces that have long beset the city -- a tradition of corruption and dysfunction and a weak economy that clouded New Orleans's future years before the rains began in August.
"Always broke. Worst school system in the state. Highest crime rate in the nation. Shrinking population. All the corporations have moved out," said Bernie Pinsonat, a political analyst in Baton Rouge. "Any poll I do, the rest of Louisiana thinks, 'New Orleans is a deep, dark hole, and no matter how much money we send, it doesn't seem to get better.' "
...The blue-ribbon commission he appointed to help with reconstruction is rife with internal squabbles, some of them racial, and with fears it could be reduced to irrelevancy because of the state government's own commission and the recent appointment of Donald E. Powell, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., to oversee federal relief work. "We're kind of a work in process," Nagin said during a recent interview...
...In a recent Louisiana State University poll of 419 business executives, corruption was ranked among the worst aspects of doing business in Louisiana. Investors and managers elsewhere are reluctant to come "because they don't want to pay the corruption tax," said Rafael C. Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
"We've seen every type of corruption imaginable," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, whose office indicted 44 public officials in the past fiscal year alone. He pointed to skimming, bribery and shakedowns across a spectrum of government employment: judges, police, teachers, administrators and traffic court workers...
Gov. Kathleen Blanco's top adviser on rebuilding Louisiana after this year's hurricanes said Monday that Blanco and the commission she appointed to oversee recovery planning "will continue to make sure the state's most important city is front and center in the recovery process."
Andy Kopplin, formerly Blanco's chief of staff and now director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, addressed a meeting of Mayor Ray Nagin's parallel recovery agency, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission.
Kopplin said the state authority has no more important task than helping to bring back "one of the great cities of the world" and promised that the state's infrastructure will be rebuilt "from east to west," placing New Orleans in prime position for early reconstruction work.
But when developer Joseph Canizaro, a member of Nagin's commission, asked whether Blanco would be willing to give the city one-third of the $150 million she hopes to tap this year from the state's rainy-day fund, Kopplin said the administration would be willing to discuss the issue but suggested that chances of winning approval by two-thirds of each legislative house are questionable when the state faces a huge budget deficit...
From Her Waning Fortunes:
...The good news for Blanco is that her Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is getting some legs after just three weeks of existence. This week several hundred leading design and planning professionals will meet with local leaders (by invitation only) for a three-day Louisiana Recovery and Rebuilding Conference at the Marriott Hotel. The goal is to "develop a body of principles that will guide Louisiana's long-range recovery efforts." The conference is being presented by the American Institute of Architects along with the American Planning Association at the request of LRA. Blanco will deliver an opening address, and then the work will begin.
The conference is not designed to come up with a final plan, but rather to get things moving in that direction. Another conference, this one sponsored by the Urban Land Institute, convened last week in California to discuss some of the same issues. That conference was attended by several members of Mayor Ray Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back Commission -- further underscoring a perceived rift between Nagin and Blanco...
Gov. Kathleen Blanco charged her Louisiana Recovery Authority on Wednesday with what she termed "an awesome responsibility," namely "make real my vision of rebuilding a very strong and wonderful Louisiana."
Members of the authority gathered to be briefed on post-hurricane conditions and to tour the southeastern and southwestern sections of the state that hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit within a month's time. While there, they met with residents, business leaders and local officials.
"Recovery will be driven by local needs," she said, encouraging the authority to develop plans that include loans, grants and tax incentives for businesses to return to or relocate in storm-ravaged areas.
Blanco also said the state needs "sound jobs and quality homes" before evacuees can return in large numbers to the stricken areas.
"Imagine a better Louisiana," she said. "Help me to create it."
...Commissioner of Administration Jerry LeBlanc and Legislative Fiscal Officer Steve Theriot briefed the panel on the financial situation the state is facing, including the probability of at least a $1.5 billion hole in this year's budget...