"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."
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Monday, March 10, 2014:
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.
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)