LeBlanc is referring to a magic number: 70. That's the constitutionally mandated number of votes (two-thirds) in the House of Representatives that Gov. Kathleen Blanco repeatedly failed to muster for her spending plan, which fluctuated in cost depending on negotiations. It went as low as $800 million during the 10-day session's first half. Republican legislators consistently blocked her move to raise the state's $194 million spending limit and, as a result, Blanco's original proposal went nowhere. The GOP holds 41 of the 105 House seats ' more than enough to prevent Blanco from getting a two-thirds majority on taxes and other tough issues, and frequently enough to give her heartburn on controversial matters that need simple majority votes.
That, in a nutshell, pretty much sums up what happened in the governor's hastily called pre-Christmas session. The real story, however, is how it happened. The holiday session unleashed the nastiest kinds of regional, partisan and underhanded statehouse politics.
Prior to Katrina, the state budget had exploded by nearly $5 billion since 1997. With oil prices still in the stratosphere and recovery money coming in, the state budget continues to soar ' by billions of dollars each quarter, it seems. These and other factors gave the state an estimated $1.6 billion windfall ' and many consider that figure conservative. The special session was a modern-day gold rush, with the governor leading the charge to cash in. Little attention was paid to the notion that this could be Louisiana's second (and last) oil boom, and Blanco's agenda did not seem to reflect the idea that Louisiana could "get it right" this time around.
In many ways, the governor's special session plans were a throwback to the old way of doing things around the Capitol. She resurrected the strong-arm tactics that defined the tenures of former Govs. Mike Foster and Edwin Edwards. Both men would link unpopular taxes to supplemental pay for police, teacher pay raises or kidney dialysis machines for the poor. Such moves backed lawmakers into a corner, casting a "no" vote on taxes as a vote against cops, teachers or kidney patients.
The fiscal dynamics were different for Blanco, however, and she may have misjudged the political dynamic of the House as a result. She started the session by stating she would not stand for any tax credits (the only true consensus builder) unless legislators also adopted her spending proposals. Instead of wrapping taxes in votes for key constituents, Blanco dangled goodies in exchange for a vote to bust the constitutionally imposed spending cap. At the same time, she tried to use the stick on those who didn't go along.
It didn't work.
Rep. Ernest Wooten, a Republican from Belle Chasse, says after he voted against raising the state's spending limit, the governor offered him part of $200 million for coastal restoration in his district. After turning Blanco down, Wooten says an anonymous phone bank blanketed his district, telling voters he was against everything in the administration's package. "I didn't want to come to the special session to be blackmailed," he says.
Instead, the GOP caucus beat back Blanco's spending plans. The House was forced to recess several times as Republicans, Democrats and African-American lawmakers conferred in their respective caucuses. The scene on the House floor was unprecedented and could represent a watermark in state policy making. "It's just been completely insane around here, with everyone meeting with their caucuses," says Rep. Michael Jackson, a Democrat from Baton Rouge and member of the Legislative Black Caucus. "There's so much being put into that."
To top it all off for the swaggering Republicans, last week also brought news that a personal dinner with the governor fetched only $1 at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce's annual holiday auction. The GOP's theory ' shared by many outside the party as well ' is that Blanco wanted the session to kick off her re-election bid. Having defeated her efforts to spend upwards of $2 billion on some of her key constituents, Republicans were filled with a holiday cheer all their own. Rep. Jack Smith, a Democrat from Franklin, fired back and referenced the likely GOP gubernatorial frontrunner: "The Republicans just want to wait until [U.S. Rep.] Bobby Jindal gets here to spend the money."
The partisan bickering was bad enough, but the divisions followed other fault lines as well. The Legislature's age-old regional divide resurfaced during debate over how to give people relief from property insurance surcharges imposed after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Given that the storms devastated the southern stretches of the state and spared most interior parishes, it was only a matter of time before geographic divisions reared their ugly head.
Rep. Francis Thompson, a Democrat from Delhi in northeast Louisiana, complained that the state's insurer of last resort, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which took a major financial hit from Katrina and Rita, is now taking an unfair toll on citizens who were not in the path of hurricanes. "It's a bad plan when people in the north are paying a 15 percent fee or surcharge, and they're not getting any benefit from it," Thompson said.
Sen. Joe McPherson, a Democrat from Woodworth, made a similar argument when debating legislation that would allow the state-run insurer to buy reinsurance for future storms. McPherson said too many officials have been "pushing the envelope" on coastal protection, while his constituents are more concerned about roads. "Why should our area be subsidizing people in the coastal zone?" McPherson asked.
Sen. James David Cain, a Dry Creek Republican and author of the Citizens reinsurance measure, offered an answer that may not have addressed McPherson's or Thompson's concerns, but it did serve as a gentle, if understated and little appreciated, reminder:
"I'd hope we're all in Louisiana together," Cain said. "At least I hope."
So far the Democratic agenda includes proposals to expand Medicaid; increase the minimum wage; offer equal pay to women; heighten regulations on predatory lending practices, like payday loans; and add more transparency in the governor’s office.
Hot-button education issues ranging from Common Core to charter schools have some lawmakers pushing to scrap the appointing process and go back to electing the state's super.
Police say the handcuffed man fatally shot himself in the back, but his family isn't buying the story.
Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a budget proposal that suggests new education and health care spending, pay raises for state workers and an incentive fund to encourage colleges to enhance their science, engineering and technology training.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Tuesday, March 11, 2014:
Hopefully he’ll be better prepared today than he was in that Feb. 20 deposition.
They came by the hundreds, arriving from all regions of the state to gather on the steps of our Capitol in protest of the Legislature’s long tradition of giving industry the go-ahead to abuse our air, our water and our coastline, all in the name of good economics.
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s recent rhetoric against President Barack Obama has failed to boost his standing among the conservative base.
Louisiana's annual legislative session begins.
The state has hired marksmen to shoot feral hogs from helicopters at two wildlife management areas in south Louisiana.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.