SADOW: Budget Problems Provide Interesting Opportunities For Jindal

Veteran political observer John Maginnis wonders whether Gov. Bobby Jindal wants to set up the Legislature for something. Maybe so, but perhaps not in the way he imagines.

As state budgetary pressures continue, the Jindal Administration has had to start pruning state spending, to the consternation of legislators who are prone to taking more seriously than deserved interests with outsized influence complaining about unanticipated cuts to, if not closures of, colleges, state hospitals, indigent health care, and prisons. Maginnis speculates that the situation created allows Jindal to have his cake and eat it, too, with the cuts encouraging legislators to revisit tax exemptions next session that he has promised to veto changes to and go around him. Already a special panel is meeting to review the exemptions.

Constitutionally, to repeal an exemption requires a two-thirds majority in each chamber, a difficult standard to achieve. But Maginnis argues the Legislature could suspend an exemption with a majority vote, because the Constitution allows suspension by the same vote required for enactment, which in the case of any law that reduces taxes requires only a simple majority (those that serve to increase them requires two-thirds votes). Further, this could work for an extended period of time, as the Constitution permits the suspension of a law to last as many as 60 days past the end of the next regular session – if done next year, as late/long as early August, 2014. With governors unable to veto concurrent resolutions like this, theoretically Jindal could try to goad legislators into going for it, criticize the move, and then budget the extra dollars with them, keeping his anti-tax increase credentials spotless while getting budgetary breathing room.

However, this view ignores that Jindal’s budget-cutting so far has been consistent with his long-advertised desires for policy changes, as parts of overhauls in how health care gets delivered, university governance and in incarceration choices. In reality he has telegraphed multiple times over time that these things would happen regardless of the budget posture, where the only effect of the diminished budget picture has been to accelerate the pace of change. More likely, if he has used the difficulties for any purpose, likely that has come in subtle reminding that more extensive privatization might have saved some institutions.

Rather, Jindal might use the opportunity to stump for an idea floated the session before last, loosening up some of the strictures on use of funds in time of deficit. But if he’s bold, he could go further and take up Commission on Streamlining Government ideas that would produce regular review of dedicated revenue streams with the intent of getting rid of some of those, both through tax relief and redirection to general uses, that no longer serving a priority public policy purpose. That would prevent money from forcibly going to low priority uses at the expense of higher priorities, unless repatriated by a funds sweep, and/or accumulating a surplus in these funds with no likelihood of them being used for their intended purposes absent the fund sweep.

Just as Jindal can hold up the budget slashing to legislators as a demonstration of the consequences of their refusing to approve of several privatization initiatives of his, he also can do so as an incentive to loosen the budgetary straitjacket that leaves the state sitting on billions of dollars of idle cash that legally may be used for general purposes only in bits and pieces. Given Jindal’s record of governance embracing these reforms, that seems the more probable move on his part than his secretly hoping the Legislature does something he never has supported.

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