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."
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.