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Jindal seems keen on kind of legislative independence

As noted yesterday, markers that clearly may delineate the governing style of Gov. Bobby Jindal are how he handles certain controversial bills this session. Clues are coming forward, and the answer might be Jindal is serious about reducing governor meddling in legislative affairs, perhaps even both in appearance and in fact.

These bills include SB 672, the bill that would make Louisiana legislators the ninth-highest paid in the nation at a full-time level which passed the Senate yesterday, as well as HB 582, designed to change the capital budgeting process amended Monday in a way that gives the legislature more power, and HB 1100, which increases public record access in the governor’s office. The latter two have competing bills which the Jindal Administration favors, while it says Jindal will sign off on the pay raise if it gets through the House.

Jindal’s intention regarding the raise appears puzzling for someone who has said government has gotten too big and spends too much money, as throwing more money at legislators seems like the last thing to do to discourage them from putting more effort into finding more ways for government to do more things and spend more money to justify their lofty salaries (for most exceeding the median income of Louisiana household by about $15,000 a year). He also must know to sign this bill would anger many of his supporters who would see such a move as a betrayal of what they thought Jindal believed in. The key, however, is whether it will get through the House, a more conservative chamber which has shown much more in the way of fiscal restraint than the Senate where SB 672 passed with the minimum amount of votes needed.

If Jindal truly does believe in greater legislative independence, he would not come out and state he would veto such a bill. Likewise, he also wouldn’t say what he has and then spring a surprise veto, annoying legislators who went out on a limb and voted themselves a raise with the attendant bad publicity and then have it come to nothing. Given this belief, if he really is against the idea, his only recourse would be quietly working behind the scenes to ensure its defeat in the House.

But the House may wish to exact a price in return. Speaker Jim Tucker hinted at certain deals would have to be made. The question is, just what are the parts of it and, further, who has what to gain or lose. And it still seems here that Jindal would have the upper hand.

That could be approval of HB 582 and HB 1100, the versions less preferred by Jindal, or at least one of them with, given its recent progress, HB 582 being the best candidate. Jindal probably would accept its premise of legislative review after governor approval if he can work in feasibility studies for all projects (currently the bill excludes the majority of capital requests), and maybe hope that the review portion gets successfully challenged in the courts for constitutional violation of separation of powers, giving him what he presumably wants without heavy-handed intervention. Or part of the price may already have been paid with Jindal’s acceptance of the tax-cutting SB 87 that the administration hinted would cause budgetary difficulties down the road, approved yesterday in the House.

It seems unlikely that, if horse trading indeed is occurring, that Jindal would trade away assumed disdain for SB 672’s passage. The House already has acted so assertively in other areas, including budget cutting, without Jindal putting up much resistance, that surely the payoff is coming. No other measure out there is controversial that is highly prized by either party except for HB 1347 which would create a semi-voucher system for schooling, and Jindal appears to have a majority for that. Neither could the Senate retaliate by failing to push through HB 582 and HB 1100, because Jindal already has Senate versions more to his liking in the House and could accept that no bill comes out, so the battle then becomes one between the House and Senate but Jindal wins regardless. And he could excoriate the chambers if they failed to pass things such as workforce development, and wreak havoc on budget projects with the line itme veto.

If this scenario holds, look for HB 582 and perhaps HB 1100 to go to Jindal for his signature. But SB 672 will never make it off the House floor (it did make it to it). However, if all of them make it through, it would demonstrate Jindal is a much weaker governor than thought – which would fly in the face of the command he exerted in the two special sessions. If none of them make it, by contrast, the deal-making described above (except perhaps for the SB 87 part) would be irrelevant and it would confirm his strength conveyed by the results of those sessions. Regardless, it looks as if Jindal is committed to allowing, or at least allowing the appearance of, an independent Legislature.

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