"These hot button issues are so distracting," she says, shaking her head and rolling her eyes in agitation. "I really hope they don't turn the process upside down."
After five previous legislative sessions as governor, Blanco seems to realize there is very little she can do to control the Legislature. In her opening speech, she told lawmakers to "have at it," be partisan and bicker all they want ' just make sure the work of the state gets done.
And she won't let legislators take unnecessary bites out of her proposed $20.7 billion budget to do it. Some lawmakers are putting on a full-court press to resurrect the controversial urban and rural slush funds. Before being abolished, partly by Blanco, the funds were traditionally used by governors to dole out cash to select lawmakers for pet projects. Blanco has line-item veto authority and says any move to restore the funds will be squashed.
"I will stand my ground on that," she declares. "Legislators cannot just dial up anytime they want and send money somewhere."
Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson from Delhi has vowed to carry out the mission and restore the funds personally. Maybe that's why Blanco singled him out during her opening speech when she announced the state would purchase 1,400 acres along Interstate 20 in Richland Parish for economic development.
"Before you jump to conclusions, let me quickly reassure you that Francis Thompson does not own the land," she remarked with a chuckle, referring to the state representative's penchant for supporting projects he has a financial interest in, like his hometown Poverty Point Reservoir.
The offensive and defensive budget maneuvers have also begun over increased teacher pay, a campaign promise Blanco made and attempted to enact in a pre-Katrina and Rita session. This time, the governor has proposed a $1,500 annual raise for Louisiana's estimated 59,000 certified teachers ' a total investment of $105 million.
"The proposal is both fiscally and educationally sound," Blanco says. "Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the region and in the country. This is simply not conducive to long-term progress in education. After all, student performance is directly linked to quality teachers."
Opponents argue it's a political move aimed at satisfying one of Blanco's political bases. Others contend the money could be better utilized elsewhere, such as in the charity hospital system. The governor waves off the notion.
"Every year they say they don't have enough money," Blanco says. "We are redesigning the system, and you can rest assured that health care will be taken care of."
Overall, the budget is bigger than ever, swelling to $1.6 billion more than the spending plan approved last year. Blanco says that's due to the monstrous sums of federal relief cash flowing into state coffers and isn't being lulled into a false sense of security. Her staff is looking into options such as placing the federal monies into another account or earmarking it separately.
Other big-ticket moves Blanco is pushing: consolidating New Orleans government, a concept that faltered during the February special session; expanding and re-training Louisiana's workforce through a $15 million program; and an unexpected piece of legislation that could offer a compromise to the controversial issue of legacy sites polluted by oil companies.
The governor's most significant battle could be how she interacts with lawmakers ' a sore spot for her administration. In the most recent special session in February, Blanco encountered resistance. Some lawmakers staged walk-outs, and her own leadership voted against a few of Blanco's priorities. It was a far cry from the governor's first legislative session, when Blanco earned the nickname Queen Bee after she stripped Rep. Troy Hebert of his chairmanship of the House Insurance Committee.
"The difference was this time they came and told me early on why they had disagreements," Blanco says. "And I'm going to let them represent their people the way they want to."
In her opening speech to the Legislature last week, Blanco struck a different tone with lawmakers. She joked with them in a familiar way and drew a firm line in the sand on certain topics. For instance, Blanco made it clear ' in very certain terms ' that she would veto any and all measures to expand gambling: "I want to reiterate my position on that: No. And if I'm not clear: Veto."
Her new attitude and approach is unproven, but a regular session brimming with hot issues is a perfect place to try out the strategy. If nothing else, the governor says the alterations should ease the transition the state faces.
"I was trying to strike a different tone," Blanco says of her session speech and staff changes. "I wanted to spark some humor. I've put [lawmakers] through a couple of intense special sessions, and we had some serious things to take care of. It was time to transition. There's a yearning in the public, and in the body, for a sense of normalcy. It will help speed up recovery."
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Home Depot breach bigger than Target; Alibaba IPO could be big; Rivers' last project and more national and international news for Friday, September 19, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.