Some of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s vetoes are real “head-scratchers.” And the governor’s explanations for those decisions leave a lot to be desired.
Ethics and taxes are always at the top of Jindal’s list of priorities, and vetoes involving both subjects are the most puzzling of all. He signed some bills that should have been vetoed and vetoed others he should have signed.
Take taxes, for example. The governor vetoed four measures that would have allowed voters in any parish to decide whether they wanted to keep a 3 percent tax on the lease or rental of automobiles. The state has been levying that tax since 1990 and it expires June 30.
The state has been getting the proceeds from 2.5 percent of the tax, and local governments received the other 0.5 percent. Parishes that would have approved continuing the tax would have received the full 3 percent.
Calcasieu Parish was listed in one measure, along with Orleans, Jefferson, Lafayette, East Baton Rouge and Caddo parishes. Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, saw an opportunity to include Calcasieu Parish. He said the tax would have raised less than $200,000 annually, and that money could have been used at Lake Charles Regional Airport. It makes sense since vehicle rentals are a major operation at airports.
Voters in every parish would have had the last word, and isn’t that the way democracy is supposed to work?
On the other hand, Jindal had no problem signing a bill that will allow voters in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes to decide whether they want to continue tolls on the Crescent City Connection for another 20 years. The bridge tolls that bring in over $20 million a year are scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
State Police had already said they were prepared to take over operation of the New Orleans bridges, and the governor gave the impression he was ready to let the tolls expire as scheduled. Somewhere along the way he apparently had a change of heart.
Opponents of continuing the tolls made a valid point that it’s unfair to include all of Orleans voters in the referendum because many of them seldom have to pay those tolls. Jefferson Parish residents are affected more than anyone else.
The governor might argue that tolls and taxes are different. He said in his veto message on the auto rental tax he had “made a commitment to the taxpayers of Louisiana to oppose all attempts to raise taxes.” Tolls are taxes, pure and simple. Check a thesaurus if you have any doubts about that.
Jindal vetoed an ethics bill by Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings. It would have allowed public officials governing towns with less than 5,000 citizens to do business with people who also do business with their towns or cities. Small towns have a difficult time finding enough companies to avoid ethical conflicts.
The governor said Morrish’s bill weakens the application and enforcement of the ethics code in local municipalities. However, he had no problem signing other measures that are blatant conflicts of interest.
One of the worst is a bill that allows members of the Jefferson Parish Council and the boards that run two general hospitals there to hire immediate family members as doctors, nurses or other health professionals. Actually, the legislation was designed to help one member of the parish council whose wife wants to work at one of those hospitals.
Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, said he understood getting doctors is difficult in rural parishes, but Jefferson Parish and the surrounding area have numerous hospitals where the councilman’s wife could practice medicine. And although the bill was designed for one official, the board members of those hospitals will be able to hire their relatives, as well.
Walsworth said, “If you want to destroy ethics in this state, you do it one local bill at a time.”
Few were surprised when a spokesman for the governor gave the same vague response we hear so often from those quarters.
“We review bills like this one on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “We do not support anything that would jeopardize enforcement of the ethics code.”
Jindal’s vetoes are clearly punitive in some instances. It has become common practice for the governor to use his veto pen to get back at his enemies, and some legislators want to hold a veto session. However, it hasn’t happened since the current Constitution went into effect at midnight Dec. 31, 1974, and isn’t likely to occur this year.
The governor pretty much has the state Senate in his hip pocket, and it takes only one chamber to cancel a veto session. And even if a veto session were held, it would take a difficult two-thirds vote to override any of Jindal’s vetoes.
The House of Representatives demonstrated a streak of independence this year, but the opposition numbers dwindled after the governor’s forces went to work behind the scenes. The deck is stacked, and we are destined to see more of the same — unless the governor gets involved in national politics.
Jindal has often said he “has the job he wants.” Who wouldn’t want it, especially with the power he has used during the first year of his second term? Unfortunately, some of that power has also been abused.
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].