Gov. Bobby Jindal has two weeks to try and bring some measure of success to a legislative program that has its major features either dead or on life support.
The governor is having unprecedented problems for three reasons: his administration’s plans are often veiled in secrecy, he is unwilling to bend now and then and he refuses to take legislative officials into his confidence.
Maybe the best way to describe all of that is the absence of effective leadership. Jindal inspires fierce loyalty within his inner circle, but legislators feel he doesn’t respect them as an equal branch of state government.
The proposed sale of three state prisons, a cornerstone of the governor’s legislative package, died in a close 13-12 vote by the House Appropriations Committee at the start of last week. And from there on, everything seemed to be going downhill in short order.
Jindal is fiercely opposed to new taxes, but he doesn’t hesitate to support increased college tuition. One tuition measure he supports was defeated, and the other has been watered down.
The defeated bill would have allowed increases in operational fees at colleges and universities. The other would have given institutions authority to charge tuition for 15 credit hours rather than the current ceiling of 12 hours.
One board dead
Speaker of the House Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, announced on Wednesday that his and Jindal’s push for one higher education board was a dead issue. The board would have replaced five existing boards.
The Senate the same day killed legislation that would have allowed the state to lease two state-owned prisons in Allen and Winn parishes. The bill was called an alternative to the governor’s plan to sell three prisons.
Earlier in the session, Jindal had to abandon his planned merger of Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans. The best he could do was move UNO from the LSU System to the University of Louisiana System. The Senate OK’d that Thursday without objection.
One of the best examples of Jindal’s failure of leadership occurred when two legislators sponsored bills to end the state’s income tax. All of us who pay the tax would like nothing better, of course, but there has to be some way to raise revenues for essential government services.
If the governor had threatened to veto such a drastic move, the repeal effort might have died in its tracks. However, he sat back waiting to see how the wind was blowing.
Jindal did the same thing when the movement to repeal the Stelly income tax increase got started. However, once he saw it was going to fly through the Legislature, the governor jumped on board.
None would admit it publicly, but the governor and many members of the Legislature would love to have the nearly $400 million they lost when Stelly was repealed.
The state Senate gave Jindal a reprieve when it turned the latest income tax repeal effort into a study designed to come up with a plan about how to replace the billions of dollars of lost revenues.
House members get that bombshell this week. The House Ways and Means Committee has Senate Bill 259 by Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Livonia, on its Monday agenda. If it or the full House undoes the changes made by the Senate, the repeal circus could begin all over again.
What is still puzzling to many legislators and voters is Jindal’s willingness at the same time to take such a hard stand on renewal of a measly 4-cent-per-pack tax on cigarettes. He is expected to veto the tax this week, and arms are probably being twisted at this very moment in an effort to kill a veto override.
The override of vetoes is a rare occurrence in Louisiana, and that is why governors fight so hard to keep it from happening. It is considered an affront to their political skills.
The first override in modern times came in 1991, when the Legislature voted to override former Gov. Buddy Roemer’s veto of a tough abortion bill. It would have jailed doctors who perform abortions, and Roemer said it would be hard and expensive to defend in court.
Two years later, lawmakers overrode a veto by former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards. He vetoed a bill that took $3 million in recovery funds from the state Attorney General’s Office. Edwards said he was told it would curtail the AG’s authority and operations.
A veto override is only one hurdle facing Jindal this week. The full Senate for the third time in as many years will debate a bill requiring the governor to make more of his records available to the public.
Some legislators believe recent setbacks in the governor’s legislative agenda give the bill by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, a better shot this time around.
It’s election year
The governor’s budget is still in the Senate Finance Committee, and revenue shortages could still cause him some funding problems.
Jindal has had some legislative successes, but the past week was about as bad as it ever gets for Louisiana governors. Nevertheless, Jindal continues to express confidence.
“…We will continue fighting for our reforms until sine die (end of session),” he said.
Legislators will go home on June 23. However, they may have to return in a special session if the U.S. Justice Department rejects their redistricting plans. If not, those who want to come back next year will begin their fall re-election campaigns.
Much of what they did or didn’t do this year was influenced by those impending elections. And maybe that is why some of them went out of their way to prove they are their own men and women and not puppets of the governor.
Jim Beam , the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].