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Jindal takes least political damage with pay raise veto

If Gov. Bobby Jindal threatened the Louisiana Legislature with excising some of their own funds and projects, it didn’t work as SB 672, which would more than double legislators’ salaries almost immediately for no good reason, has gone to his desk. What options exist for him now?

Regarding political capital (much less state need) the worst is to let it go into law. Jindal cannot seriously think observers will absolve him for not signing the bill to distinguish from an actual endorsement. They will only care that he had the means to try to stop it, and he didn’t try with maximal effort. He has put himself between a rock and a hard place, pledging non-interference apparently because key pieces of legislation of his were threatened (such as his workforce development plans, or in cuts to some budgetary proposals which now seem to be restored).

The problem is, he also promised on this issue during his campaign that he would not promote this kind of pay increase unless it took effect after the next election, as well as he would with this allow an obnoxious nationally-first-of-its-kind indexed annual raise. So either he breaks a promise to voters or to legislators. While the latter can make it hard to get his program enacted in the future, many of them have a stake in it too and he won’t be in a position to stump for more of his agenda if he isn’t in office after early 2012 which accepting this bill will compromise his chances of being in office for that (as well as any ambitions for higher office later). More long term damage would come from breaking a pact with voters rather than legislators. Nevertheless, the fact remains he must break his word no matter what.

There’s only one scenario where he might not have to choose. Article X section 29.1 of the state Constitution explicitly defines legislative work as part-time. Thus, he may hope that if it does become law it can be challenged judicially and ruled unconstitutional on the basis that a nearly $50,000 a year salary is indicative of full-time work. But that’s way too uncertain to pin all hopes of a reversal on and he would receive no credit for such a backdoor maneuver unless it succeeded, so, again, Jindal must reconcile himself to breaking his word to somebody.

It should be with legislators. He can sandbag the Legislature past the end of the session by saying he’s not going to veto, and then do it before Jul. 6. This will enrage some legislators but they are unlikely to reverse it since the margins of passage were narrow and an override not only would require a two-thirds vote but prior to it a majority vote to even have a session, never in history called in the state, would be required to be able to do it. Public pressure against both will be such that even secret sympathizers in the Legislature will be hesitant to switch to support.

As a result, next year and perhaps beyond they will act negatively on many on some of his agenda. But with many who ran on that same agenda, they will politically damage themselves by opposition. Further, Jindal will pick up popular support with his veto of SB 672 which is the ultimate antidote to a hostile legislature and he still will have the full range of gubernatorial powers handy even if he must abandon his principle of legislative independence in using them by which to minimize damage to his future agenda hopes. Finally, if dire budget predictions come true, Jindal’s hand will be strengthened relative to legislators as they will become more dependent upon his choices in a constrained funding environment.

Unlike his dithering on SB 87 which will cut income taxes for many Louisiana households, this is an issue on which he cannot jump on the bandwagon to avoid a self-inflicted wound that will not heal. (Ads have gone on radio crediting Jindal for the tax cut mentioning that details may be found at the pro-Jindal Believe in Louisiana, but they have yet to surface on the site.) Jindal boxed himself into taking a hit no matter what happens, but the damage is minimized by his veto. That way he will win the game of chicken he forced himself into playing even as, to this point, he has been losing it by default, and thereby to conserve the most political capital.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Sadow,

You seem to be averaging a healthy .5 comment per entry lately. How does it feel to write a blog that it would appear no one reads?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anonymous must be a legislator, hasn't the stones to debate you openly.

Thanks for this article-it captures jindal's plight perfectly. His predicament is much of his own making. If he had shown some interest in what goes on in Louisiana he could have either nipped this in the bud or convinced them to put forth a more reasonable raise. Now he has a choice-offend 76 greedy SOBs or a couple of million voters. He's supposed to be smart, maybe he can figure the odds...

James Sanders

Jeff Sadow said...

I wouldn't know, unless you count a couple of hundred a day as "no one." (I can track the hits on it.) Depending on where it gets linked, some days it's in the thousands. Some newspapers across the state also reprint some of the posts as does the political newsletter FAX-Net Update.

Jeff Sadow said...

Actually, several legislators have written me about postings or even posted their own comments openly.

Jindal has shown some real blind spots on fiscal matters. Three leap to mind: his insistence on high salaries for overpaid economic development people, his misjudgment on the power of the Stelly Plan partial reversal, and now the pay raise issue. Something I will ponder fully when the session is all over is what about him made him miss these things -- sheer inexperience, or something else?

Anonymous said...

I think Jindal is making a huge mistake by not vetoing the pay raise. What a disappointment.

Anonymous said...

I feel this is the straw that will break the back of the people of Louisiana. I hope this issue will bring people in this state closer and show them what a unified voice can actually accomplish.