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GOP, Hines can damage Blanco session reelection ploy

Gov. Kathleen Blanco raised the stakes in her battle to jumpstart her reelection campaign by calling for a special session of the Legislature Dec. 8-21, putting the ball squarely in the court of legislative Republicans and Senate Pres. Don Hines, whose next moves may seriously damage Blanco’s hopes to serve past 2007.

The short session involves as much material as a regular fiscal session would, including changing laws to restructure homeowner insurance provision by the state, changing laws to ease state tax burdens by allowing again certain exemptions wiped out by the infamous Stelly Plan, accelerating dinosaur-speed tax breaks on business timidly brought into being by Blanco, tax credits galore such as for transportation by sugar farmers, pay raises for multitudes such as public safety personnel and school workers, and infusions to reduce transportation backlogs and unfunded accrued liabilities in state pension plans. In other words, spending huge sums from a presumed large state revenue surplus that may evaporate when rebuilding from the 2005 hurricane disasters abates, much on operating expenses, to give some goodies to a large portion of the Louisiana public.

Parsing through the requests, no real coherence exists to it, or any contemplation of these measures’ long term impacts seems clear, with just one idea holding it all together – trying to get as many votes as possible for Blanco next year. But, she may find, the Legislature may not feel so cooperative in this endeavor.

She had the ill fortune, also in large part governed by reelection calculations, to oppose Hines on the issue of whether to commit state money to guarantee a loan to build a sugar mill at Bunkie. Prevailing, Hines now has come out full against the idea of the session. More importantly, Hines can subvert the entire basis of the session by his vote, scheduled Tuesday morning, against declaring about $1.5 billion in surplus revenue that the Legislature could spend at the Revenue Estimating Conference meeting as available.

If Hines makes that move, then the spending could occur only with a two-thirds concurrence of each house of the Legislature (which explains item #6 in the call). Having just $331 million to blow may not be enough to entice members to do much of anything unless it’s related to spending for their own districts which, if anything, would hurt Blanco’s reelection chances if her nominal opponents point out she called a session that turned into a pork barrel festival. Thus, Blanco is hoping the siren song of much greater revenues out there would be enough to get two-thirds to want to work on the bigger items that could make her look better to voters.

Here, others against Blanco for different reasons could take up the opening Hines can provide to make the whole session a fiasco for Blanco. Republicans in particular have been critical of the session’s transparent reelection boost, rather than its representing any serious (given the time frame involved, therefore limited agenda to it) attempt to address looming state issues. Given that they control over a third of the seats in both chambers, with a few to spare, when House Republicans conference tomorrow, they could issue a statement that they oppose any efforts to raise the expenditure limit.

If they did so, followed by Hines scuttling the declaration of extra revenue (because he and his three Conference counterparts unanimously must approve of any increases), Blanco would be left with two bad choices, call the session only to see the GOP block any raising of the limit and watch it degenerate into a pork-fest, or to cancel it to avoid this. Either action makes her look weak and unable to govern, not what she needs heading into an election year. She could save her reputation only if she could twist enough legislative arms to get that two-thirds vote, in each chamber.

Starting tomorrow, some real tests of political will go on display. We’ll see who blinks, and if it’s Blanco, the state will be better off.

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