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Legislator sour grapes, or did Jindal really set them up?

Act I in the drama of the tussle between majoritarian branches of government in Louisiana was Gov. Bobby Jindal’s veto of a pay raise to full-time status of part-time legislators. Act II was his line-item vetoes of appropriations bills that in almost every case slashed budget spending that was local and/or questionable in nature. Act III, the finale, came when the Senate vetoed the veto session to undo any of this. Jindal clearly triumphs, but it doesn’t mean he can avoid the hypocritical sour grapes of legislators.

The loudest complaints came from those whose projects clearly violated the standards Jindal had promulgated about these items, and have been discussed elsewhere. Another set of complaints have come from those who said that the smaller portion of vetoed items, dealing with specific appropriations for local governments, were done with little guidance.

On the surface, this would appear to have merit. No detailed guidelines were issued regarding these items as Jindal did with nongovernmental organizations in his Apr. 30 missive. But a nanosecond’s worth of thought dismisses this charge as just more politics.

Jindal defended his actions on this account by saying he used “common sense” criteria, creating priorities with infrastructure at the top and considering the scope of impact. What he didn’t say, or perhaps needed to state unambiguously to a bunch short on common sense, was that it is common sense that all capital items for local governments should have gone into HB 2, the capital outlay bill. As it was, everything that legislators asked for, with the exception of an outlay that violated state law, he kept in that bill.

But from legislators’ perspectives, that’s bad news because there’s much more oversight and procedures attached to the outlay bill – which meant, given the low priority so many of these requests would have, that many probably would not have made it into that bill. Simply, they preferred the more politically expedient route stuffing these outlays into HB 1, and got burned, and now they’re mad because they got called on the practice.

The hypocrisy comes in when legislators then begin to blame Jindal for the vetoes rather than themselves. It was rich irony to see one of the biggest hypocrites in the legislature, state Sen. Robert Adley (among others) accuse Jindal of making the vetoes for political reasons (since that these have been enthusiastically received by the public). Properly interpreted, legislators knew many of these vetoes were coming yet forged ahead anyway so that some of them would succeed and of those vetoed they could at least bleat they had tried to get them enacted, then launch the “Jindal playing politics” blame gambit. (Adley already milks hundreds of thousands of dollars a year out of local governments for a no-bid contract his company has with an association of them, so he brings home plenty of bacon for himself at least, just as another such whiner, state Sen. Joe McPherson, makes millions in Medicaid funding to his nursing home.)

Make no mistake, by taking this course of action it was legislators playing politics. Many of them slammed by going on the record for a pay raise they felt they could have avoided if Jindal had played it differently, then getting pet projects cut that for some are major parts of their reelection efforts, the griping about all of this is their only recourse to spin any success out of it all when they could easily have avoided this rash of negative publicity by not touching the raise issue and by being parsimonious with their earmarks and/or putting them in the capital outlay budget.

But on the subject of playing politics, might legislators be correct in one sense when some argue the pay raise fiasco cut off any override session chance, because it would make legislators look like they wanted payback for that? As far-fetched as it may seem: was it all a setup by Jindal? Did he allow the Legislature to blunder into approving the raise, so as to make it lose so much political capital that it then could not resist the vetoes?

Given that Jindal took a hit as well as a result, it doesn’t seem likely. Unless it was a miscalculation on his part to a gamble that at least partially paid off?

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