Yesterday might have been the dumbest day in Louisiana legislative history.
Lots of things happened and it all got fairly complicated, but boiled down it came to this: the Senate passed a budget of some $25.4 billion which actually might have been a little more generous than what the House had passed, but the Senate’s budget had a key provision – namely, that if the revenue somehow didn’t materialize to pay for everything in the budget, there would be cuts issued on a pro rata basis for all the items in the general fund. As higher education is getting about half of the general fund expenditures, higher ed would catch half the shortfall.
And while the Senate was passing that plan, the House wasn’t passing much of anything.
First, Sen. Jack Donohue’s bill that would have given Louisiana’s public colleges the freedom to set their own tuition without micromanagement from the Legislature failed.
And then, a plan to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate on how to bridge the state’s $1.6 billion deficit went down along with Donohue’s bill.
The plan came in the form of an amendment to a rather innocuous bill on the House floor brought by Rep. Alan Seabaugh. Seabaugh’s amendment would have revived the SAVE Act, the rather clumsy artifice whereby a $1,500 per-student fee would be levied but not actually collected, because a corresponding tax credit would also be issued and paid for by some of the tax increases the House had already passed, and the amendment also would have included a pair of capital outlay reform bills passed by the House but not taken up by the Senate.
Seabaugh brought the amendment because the SAVE Act is the major sticking point in reconciling budgets and taxes in this session. The SAVE Act is a bit of legerdemain demanded by Gov. Bobby Jindal as his price for accepting the tax increases – $664 million as passed in the House and now $929 million after “enhancement” by the Senate – under the guise that he wants revenue neutrality. Washing tax increases against a tax credit that reimburses college parents for a fee increase is a dopey way to do business, but it’s what Jindal wants and he has the power of a veto.
In the Senate, the SAVE Act passed. Nobody in the Senate is particularly happy about the SAVE Act, but they at least recognize the futility of trying to fight Jindal on a budget that has a billion dollars in tax increases in it. Most of those tax increases come in the form of tax credits that are going away or getting reduced, and as such they can be explained, if dubiously, as reductions in corporate welfare, but some of them can’t. Getting Jindal to come on board with a straight tax increase isn’t going to happen, and in the Senate they understood that.
Not in the House.
In the House, the SAVE Act is unpopular in the extreme. So Seabaugh tried to package it with a deliverable, in the form of the two capital outlay reform bills the House had passed, so at least those House members who hate the SAVE Act could say they got something for swallowing it.
And as I understand it, Seabaugh had counted the votes and his amendment was going to pass as he took to the floor to defend it against withering abuse from the usual Democrats – John Bel Edwards, Pat Smith, etc. – screaming and howling about how Jindal is the devil and Seabaugh is carrying water for him. The amendment was going to pass on a more or less party line vote, but there were a handful of Democrats who were actually going to go along with it in the understanding that without the SAVE Act there is no real way to avoid a failure to pass a balanced budget in this session.
But one of the authors of the capital outlay reform bills, Rep. Jay Morris, told Seabaugh at the last minute that he couldn’t support the plan. He was getting his bill passed as part of the plan, something he negotiated for over the past four days, and at the last minute he still backed out. Morris said he was going to speak against the amendment, and in doing so he’d surely kill it.
So Seabaugh pulled the amendment.
As of this morning, the House is trying to position itself to set up a veto override session. There are apparently 94 votes out of 105 in the House to do so. How many votes are there in the Senate? None.
There will be no veto override session. If the tax bills get vetoed, the budget gets cut, likely on a pro rata basis. And if higher education takes a giant cut, because Donohue’s bill failed in the House there is no mechanism for the colleges to attempt to raise prices to make up the shortfall.
What this comes down to is the idiot Republicans who make up the leadership in the House and their pals on the Democrat side are trying to buffalo Jindal into accepting a “clean” slate of tax increases. They’re not interested in accepting the flimsy facade of the SAVE Act that allows him to say he raised a billion dollars in revenue from getting rid of “tax expenses” – a.k.a. corporate welfare – and offsetting the rest with that tax credit against the fee increase. They want to force the tax hikes down his throat and thus damage his presidential bid which they think has been the reason for his lousy leadership the last two years.
And while that might be an accurate characterization of Jindal, if I was advising him I’d veto every last one of those tax increase bills, and if that means higher education gets drilled for a half-billion dollars in cuts they can’t readily make up through tuition increases…hey, life sucks and then you die.
Jindal isn’t running for re-election this fall. In fact, Jindal will never run for office in Louisiana again. He’s done. What he has left is his legacy – and whatever else anybody might say about him, Jindal can veto all the tax increases and hang his hat on that. He can say that he had a legislature full of RINO’s, psychotic Democrats and morons who were hell bent on raising taxes and he fought them to the last bullet. And he can say that higher education is a bubble, something we all know is true, and in Louisiana it was Bobby Jindal who finally did something about the runaway costs on the campuses and forced them to tighten their belts.
Is that a true story? Not quite, but it’s close enough to sell to the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina. It’s close enough for Jindal’s purposes.
None of the clowns running for re-election in the House can run on it, though. What they get is a billion dollars in tax increases they voted for and STILL cut higher education by a half-billion dollars.
Is it fair for them to have to carry that weight? You’re damn right it is.
Jindal was going to give them their tax hikes. All he wanted was a fig leaf, as stupid as it is. And they couldn’t even give him that, even though the SAVE Act doesn’t actually damage anything and could be done away with next year with a new governor leading the way.
So to hell with them. At this point if Jindal were to veto those tax hikes and in doing so destroy the political careers of fools like Morris or House Ways and Means chairman and Lafayette parish presidentl candidate Joel Robideaux, who made himself look like an ass by tangling with Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist over the SAVE Act yesterday (and getting a rather sharp rebuke for his trouble), then we can only consider that a service to the people of Louisiana in itself.
Political stupidity must be met with consequences if it is to diminish. And in Louisiana we have far too much of it. Jindal should veto those tax increases and give the lesser lights in our legislature one final lesson.