Wednesday, June 1, 2011
How inconsistencies in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s own fiscal philosophy have finally collided with a Legislature that’s coming into its own. By Jeremy Alford
It was the day George Rodrigue came to Baton Rouge.
Usually, if you can catch him at his gallery in New Orleans or restaurant in Lafayette, a not-so-few bucks can buy you some signed swag. But there he was, in the Capitol rotunda dishing out autographs for lawmakers and a few tourists whispering things like, “Who is that?” and “That’s the Blue Dog guy.”
Rodrigue was there advocating for arts funding, along with other artsy types. Rodrigue was also there for Gov. Bobby Jindal when a collector commissioned a painting of the gubernatorial family in 2008. Before finishing the job, Rodrigue gave Jindal the option of including the iconic Blue Dog near his wife’s feet. Of course, Jindal didn’t dare veto the Blue Dog from the painting, having been given the choice.
But when the Blue Dog Guy was at the Capitol last Thursday, there was very little he could offer Jindal in the way of assistance.
That was the same day lawmakers were slated to take up the state’s $25 billion budget bill, as originally proposed by Jindal. Governors traditionally have the ability to ram their budgets through the process, or at least grease the rails, and lawmakers usually fold in the face of power.
This go around, however, Jindal doesn’t have earmarks in the operating budget, so he doesn’t have fresh meat to dangle over the heads of lawmakers to make them salivate. The crunch is so severe that, for the first time in recent memory, the budget is devoid of these pork nuggets.
And there’s a current of resentment, some of it built up over the years, running underneath it all — more than one lawmaker recently has dredged up Jindal’s broken promise of a legislative pay raise during his inaugural regular session in 2008.
That’s just one of Jindal’s broken promises.
The governor also has broken a campaign pledge not to use one-time monies on recurring expenditures — and that, too, has come back to bite him. By a 22-vote margin on May 23, the House adopted a resolution by Rep. Brent Geymann, R-Lake Charles, requiring a two-thirds vote of the Lower Chamber to pass any budget that includes non-recurring dollars.
Why is that a big deal?
Because Jindal proposes to cover roughly $500 million of next year’s $1.6 billion budget shortfall with one-time monies.
Last Thursday, Geymann’s resolution caused the House to shelve Jindal’s budget after representatives voted 88-11 not to plug one-time monies into next year’s budget. It was a clear sign that Jindal, whose team worked lawmakers feverishly during the floor debate, had lost more control than anyone had anticipated. Before the budget was finally advanced to the Senate just 24 hours later, representatives cut $81 million intended for a coordinated care network — and lawmakers cut it because they didn’t believe Jindal’s argument that it was tied $200 million in federal matching Medicaid money (there’s even official House documentation and research contradicting the administration’s claim).
While lawmakers complained that they were getting different figures for the cuts from the administration and the House staff, Rep. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, urged his colleagues to stick with the wisdom of House leaders. “We could have spent another six months on this in committee and still not had a better understanding,” said Cortez, a member of the Appropriations Committee.
One of the ringleaders of this new movement is Appropriations Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro, whose budget-drafting committee also made deeper cuts than Jindal wanted. In response, the administration called the committee’s action “irresponsible” and warned that five prisons would be shuttered, state troopers would lose their jobs and flu shots might be eliminated for senior citizens. Fannin’s committee additionally plugged a few holes by raiding an economic development fund against Jindal’s wishes.
As the one-time money drama further unfolded on the floor last Thursday, Fannin’s fatigue showed. He was being tugged on one side by the administration and on the other by lawmakers unwilling to find a compromise between not inserting the one-time monies and finding the cuts needed to put the budget back in balance. “I’m stuck in the middle,” Fannin said. His mood was a touch brighter, though, once representatives agreed on how to cut the budget last Friday. “We put it back together,” he said in an obvious reference to the damage inflicted by the previous day’s stalemate.
Fannin didn’t do it alone. In his corner is House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, who does have a working relationship with Jindal, as evidenced by the recent failed push to merge SUNO and UNO. That relationship, though, may be facing the same fate as the SUNO-UNO merger plan.
When the Joint Budget Committee decided to refuse a request by colleges to hike tuition, eliminating a $37 million pot of money from Jindal’s budget, Tucker defended the move by challenging universities to prove that the last three years’ worth of increases are paying off.
The speaker said scores from the so-called Grad Act indicating whether the standards have been met won’t be ready until June or July, meaning the tuition issue could be a late bloomer — if it blooms at all. “We asked for some accountability in higher education and some performance standards be met before we move forward with an additional tuition increase,” Tucker said. “And I think for many members that’s an issue.”
Based on other posturing, Tucker may be ready to take his anti-administration rhetoric to a new level with legislation to substantially trim state contracts. “The speaker told me it’s a go,” said legislative sponsor Rep. Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux. Richard added that Tucker may also put his weight behind a related bill that would cut positions in the executive branch.
Tucker said through a spokeswoman that he did meet with Richard earlier this month regarding the proposals and he had offered supportive words, but the speaker did not respond to an interview request. Tucker’s office also confirmed that Treasurer John Kennedy, who has advocated for the initiatives in speeches around the state, took part in the meeting. Jindal, for his part, has never shown a willingness to warm to the streamlining ideas.
While it shows just how far Jindal and the House have drifted apart this session, all of it also serves as a preview of the uneasy detente the administration and lawmakers in both chambers will have to forge to produce a balanced budget by June 23, scheduled as final adjournment.
Hopefully, Rodrigue will be available then, too. Maybe he can paint a happy ending that’s otherwise unattainable, or at least add a Blue Dog to whatever budget document is advanced.
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.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
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.
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.
A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
A New Orleans levee board wants to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for decades of damage to our state’s coastline, but the Legislature may be poised to put the kibosh on the suit.
New standards curb elective induction
CVS stops tobacco sales
If an Acadia Parish fiddler misses a note while swatting a fly, will a St. Martinville accordionist learn “Ma ‘Tite Fille”?
(It's good, it's bad and it's just crazy)