National Conference of State Legislatures

Alfred Katzenberger

[A report on the conference, held in New Orleans, Louisiana, 23-25 July 2008.
Reprinted from GroundSwell, July-August 2008]

It was 3,000 people smaller than the 2007 conference in Boston. The NCSL reported numbers from 4,500 to 6,500 including 968 legislators.

Public Revenue Education Council paid for and manned an exhibit booth.

Driving to New Orleans from St. Louis was easy and enjoyable. As usual finding the Inbound Material Yard is tricky for exhibitors. Getting to the convention hall dock requires getting a pass in to the dock area and finding dock space to unload. A private SUV being unloaded without dockhand help is not appreciated and must be done as quickly as possible and get the hell out of the way. Outbound was less difficult. David Geisen was available to take all remaining boxes out the front door while security was encouraging us to get the heck out of the way of the front door. (Thank You David.)

Another problem was the high cost of lodging with parking so I could be near the convention center. David and I had a high traffic booth near the Philadelphia booth, the host for the 2009 conference. The aisle also led to the lunchroom. We were across from the popular Terminix booth where everyone likes to collect a handful of rubber roaches and a canvas totebag. We were also across from the National Beer Wholesalers Association which many legislators had to pay homage to since John McCain's wife is a major member owning a huge Budweiser distributorship in Phoenix.

Before the opening of the exhibit hall David and I toured the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish areas hit hardest by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The area included Chalmette National Cemetery and Chalmette Battlefield (Battle of New Orleans). The cemetery was disgraceful. The weeds were tall, the gravestones were covered with black fungus and the walls and fencing were not repaired. The visitor center
at the battlefield was closed.

The area of the hurricane destruction was not as bad as I expected. We noticed Home Depot was booming. Wal-Mart was rebuilding. Soulless churches stood forgotten We saw many shotgun houses on concrete blocks that did not float far because they were so close to each other. Many of the homes were marked with Xs and Os and other letters and symbols of which we did not know the meaning.

Homes were being repaired surrounded by neglected homes. There were a lot of empty lots. I found it unusual that most of the empty lots were clean with the grass cut. Homes far from the city core were being repaired by the workers who worked at the nearby oil refineries. People in large trailer camps were unaware of who owned the land the trailers were on. The sprawl was awful and many buildings should never be repaired, especially with government help. From the surface the canals looked clean. I am assuming they were dredged. We heard complaints that the new / repaired floodwalls are leaking. We were told the Office of Land Deeds was flooded and most deeds destroyed. Land ownership and land titles are being reestablished. We saw most of the telephone poles with a dozen or more signs advertising various real estate activities. It was also obvious that some of the unoccupied homes were being stripped of useable building materials. On the last day of the conference the local newspaper had an official notice listing hundreds of properties to be demolished. Owners were given 30 days to present written objections. There have been several such notices and many buildings demolished.

My view of New Orleans was influenced by the Sun. The Sun does make things look cleaner and brighter. When I told legislators that the devastation wasn't as bad as I thought and that St. Louis has more devastation than New Orleans they listened. Many parts of St. Louis looks like a war zone. The big difference is the buildings in St. Louis are made of brick. St. Louis once had nearly 900,000 people and now has about 350,000. The destruction took decades instead of days but there is more of it in St. Louis. East St. Louis is even worse.

New Orleans is Soul Food Heaven. David was skeptical when I took him to the Dooky Chase Restaurant. He wasn't when we left. He didn't want to share the air light garlic bread. He spooned his bowl of gumbo clean. And of course wanted more bread pudding. The Chase family was extra gracious. We had a wonderful meal.

David is a gifted exhibitor. He can attract and hold folks' attention. He often had six or seven people focused on his Uniblocks used to show a tiny city and its land values. He squeezes in a lot of information on the proper way to pay for government while he is squeezing a small rubber ball imprinted with a map of the Earth. His squeezing of the ball (tiny Earth) is like the landowners squeezing out economic ground rent for their benefit instead of for the community's benefit. David often finishes his presentation without handing out any literature we had available on the exhibit table.

This year the legislators were focused on flood recovery, clean energy sources, the mortgage crisis, deteriorated infrastructure (and wanting more federal money for public works) and off-shore drilling. The Louisiana lawmakers were upset that the Governor vetoed their $16,800 to $37,500 pay increase. The New Hampshire lawmakers laughed at their friends from Louisiana and told them they are paid only $100. The legislators from Pennsylvania were complaining that efforts are being made to reduce the House from 203 to 161 and the Senators from 50 to 40.

We listened to many esoteric problems. From a booklet titled The Earth is the Lord's by Dr. Robert V. Anderson we get a warning from a legislator to always separate public policy from religion. She explained that hours are spent by legislators not debating public policy but on over and over and over dealing with legislators who have literacy problems understanding current public policies and / or proposed public policies. She went on to say mixing religion in to public policy totally befuddles most legislators. Most lack literacy in comprehending religions and even less in comprehending public policies.

North Carolina Speaker of the House Joe Hackney is the new president of NCSL. Because he won office after a major scandal in North Carolina, he is now the leader to watch because he is going to bring transparency to government. Transparency is a new buzzword in government. As explained above most legislators will have to be taught the meaning of the word transparency. Another word that caught my attention is "state-friendly". It is used to imply that the federal government is not always friendly to the states. State lawmakers want federal lawmakers to make state-friendly policies and remove policies that are not state-friendly.

We had a lot of information on PREC's exhibit table. Most of it came from Common Ground USA, the Center for the Study of Economic and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation. Mark Sullivan and Nadine Stoner gave PREC all the material they did not want to transport from the Kansas City CGO conference.

We met a fellow whose father was named Henry George. Of course, he wanted copies of the booklet Who was Henry George?

PREC was 59 in the pecking order out of 297 exhibitors for selection of a booth at the 2009 NCSL conference in Philadelphia. PREC ordered a larger booth for next year because it will be manned by Georgists from the Philadelphia area.

For information about NCSL search We plan to have four people man the booth. We are also seeking legislators who will request that the NCSL have a workshop on LVT and the Mayor of Harrisburg be invited to address the NCSL.

Going to the conferences gives me a chance to go sightseeing. I took a side trip to Avery Island, home of the world-famous Tabasco pepper sauce and Jungle Gardens. To get on the island a gatekeeper pokes a stick in your passenger window with a wooden cloths pen attached and requests a dollar. On the tour you receive tiny sample bottles of the Tabasco sauces. You learn the history of the sauce and see the bottling and packaging of the Tabasco products. There is a Tabasco Country Store with the Tabasco logo on every item sold. You get numerous samples to taste including Tabasco ice cream.

The waste from making the sauce is not thrown away. It is used for favoring of candy, gum, medicines, various food products etc. While in nearby Iberia, Louisiana I ate the best seafood po-boys at Duffy's Diner.

In Sikeston, Missouri I stopped at the always busy Lambert's Cafe, the home of the Throwed Rolls. You must stay alert because the waiters are seeking your attention
to throw rolls to / at you.. You see rolls flying everywhere across the restaurant. I ordered a carry out Chicken Liver (Fish Bait) Dinner. With it I received Hot Rolls, cups
of Black-eyed Peas, Fried Okra, Macaroni & Tomatoes (Salad), Fried Potatoes & Onions. The meal was huge, enough for three meals. Across the road I bought a huge Black Diamond Watermelon. It would not fit in an empty file box I had in the SUV.

My last stop was at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, Missouri eighty miles south of St. Louis. Since I am the Treasurer of the Jefferson Barracks (Nation Cemetery) Chapel Association, I enjoy seeing various sanctuaries. This shrine was worth the stopping. It is miraculously beautiful.

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