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Can Jindal have cake, eat it too with pay raise bill?

One the one hand, there is political principle. On the other hand, there is political suicide. Can Gov. Bobby Jindal have the former and avoid the latter over SB 672? Or is he even more ambitious than winning this daily double?

The bill, amended today to increase most legislators’ salaries to about the median family income for Louisiana for what is defined constitutionally as a part time job has drawn a Jindal response as curious as how he handled SB 87, the bill awaiting his signature that cuts taxes for most Louisiana income tax payers. Concerning it, at first his administration said it was against it, then he said he was for it if offsetting budget cuts were made, then he allowed the Legislature to add a poison pill amendment to it that would surely have drawn his veto, and finally backed putting it into its original, if delayed, form.

In a message released this afternoon Jindal said there still was time for the Legislature to alter its course of an “excessive” raise – that is, either let the bill die in conference or change it to give a small raise. Nonetheless, he still maintained that he would not veto it, intimating that there would be some kind of halt to his legislative agenda which he referred to as “tremendous reforms and progress” that equated to “the people’s business” if he did so. This does sound like that the legislative leadership did threaten to pass or drop pertinent legislation to Jindal if he vetoed the bill.

This stance seems peculiar, just as it did for SB 87 where Jindal, who said during his campaign that he hoped to be able to cut, perhaps even eliminate, individual income taxes during his time in office, seemed for very unclear reasons to be fighting this very opportunity. Now, Jindal states opposition to excessive pay raises yet apparently refuses to prevent them. What explains this schizophrenic policy behavior?

In both cases, Jindal seems wedded to the idea, scoffed at by some during his campaign, of legislative independence. It appears he hoped SB 87 would be shunted away quietly by the Legislature because he felt looming budget problems were too daunting to permit a tax cut at this time, and must have calculated this reasoning would have been insufficient political cover over the furor of his opposing the cuts. If so, he miscalculated as legislative independence put him in a bind.

If anything, his position here is worse in allowing legislative independence. He also apparently misjudged the determination of legislative majorities to ram home these raises despite overwhelming negative public reaction, maybe out of simple retaliation. After all, Jindal was the driving force behind ethics reforms that potentially could make for less lucrative livelihoods and more burdensome reporting for some legislators; perhaps this raise is seen as compensation. But the consequences for him politically are more dire because, on the surface, he has put himself in an almost no-win situation.

For if he does not stop the bill as currently constituted, as much public rage will be vented against him as legislators, and while he won’t be blamed as a perpetrator, he will be tagged as weak and unwilling to stand up for principle (smaller government, ridding the state of past politics, etc.) and this will be remembered longer and more intensely than the greed of the Legislature’s supporters of this raise. The irony, of course, is that he is following principle, legislative independence. Yet it is the wrong principle to follow at the wrong time, for to follow it forces Jindal into political hari-kari.

This is because even if he does veto the bill in its present form, he commits another crime, breaking his word. While many in the public would forgive him this for this veto, many in the Legislature would not, making his next three years rocky (maybe what he meant in referring to “progress;” not just this session’s work but the rest of his term), and his opponents will term him untrustworthy on the campaign trail. In the end, he probably loses less political capital over these negative outcomes than by not vetoing the bill, but he still has put himself in a situation where he loses it.

Jindal may have colossally blundered in this situation to make it lose-lose for him. Or has he? Consider what the bill does: its salary raise of about $3.5 million annually Legislature officials say already can be paid for out of the surpluses in the chambers’ coffers, built in for things like maintenance and new equipment but which can be transferred to operating expenses. This year’s budget is in HB 1294 and it is almost $69 million, of which over $47 million goes to the two chambers from which salaries are drawn (legally, prior to any other state expenditure on operating expenses except for the constitutional officers). The remainder goes to various legislative agencies.

Knowing this, Jindal goes to House Speaker Jim Tucker, and Senate Pres. Joel Chaisson, who more than any other officials drove home the raise, and tells them he will cast line item vetoes within HB 1294 to take at least the additional $3.5 million out (by vetoing the lines for the Louisiana State Law Institute and the Legislative Fiscal Office) or maybe more if SB 672 goes through in its current form. He also contacts individual legislators, the 16 senators of who voted against it, and the 45 representatives (originally it was 40, but some latecomers before the end of the day jumped in with no votes) who did likewise, tells them their earmarks in HB 1 and the supplementary HB 1287 are safe, and contacts the 20 senators and 56 representatives who voted for it and tell them their earmarks will be vetoed unless SB 672 is altered sufficiently.

This creates a massive game of chicken. An override needs 70 in the House and 26 in the Senate, and the votes aren’t there if the nays on SB 672, promised their earmarks, hold firm, and/or enough yeas defect scared of losing theirs. If the leadership continues unabated, it can get really interesting. Because of the timing, Jindal can cast all these vetoes after the session, meaning an override session would have to be certified in early August for a maximum of five days. Not only will that chafe on legislators, it gets comical because the Legislature will have no appropriated funds to finance this session if called, having to dip into its reserves to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, leaving it even less able to pay for the raises. And the best thing of all, it may not come off because Jindal can use the same threat to get enough members (at least half in each chamber) to sign right after the session is over they don’t want an override session.

Admittedly, this is a crapshoot. Logrolling may be such that enough would agree to get the two-thirds requirements fulfilled to override each and every line item veto. But because it’s an uncertain chance, legislators may be scared to take it. Thus, Jindal may cow the legislature to do what he wants. Further, they cannot threaten to derail his programs yet unpassed, because then he’ll simply veto SB 672 by their breaking of the implicit agreement to which Jindal alluded.

The beauty of all this is that Jindal can claim he respected legislative independence in the matter of their salaries, but at the same time did something – the two line item vetoes – that forced them to live within their means – if the Legislature’s leaders don’t cave in under his implied threat and adjust SB 672 accordingly. Meanwhile, the Legislature looks bad, trying so desperately to preserve a deeply unpopular raise.

Every incentive would be for it to back down, to look better and not have to go through a possible veto session that may not come off or work for it – in which case it goes a whole year eating into its reserves – exhausting them, no doubt – unless it wants to call itself into special session to deal with this (and the products of which Jindal still can veto), which never has been done on its own and would be the third this year. Best of all for Jindal, if it does back down, he has completely and thoroughly whipped the Legislature for his entire term, sending them the message that it can be independent – but on a few select issues it better check with him first. And to the state – and the country when word gets out – he will appear to be a hero.

Is this the very high-stakes strategy Jindal is attempting – getting his program through, allowing more seeming legislative independence, and creating a crisis that makes him look heroic to the public in Louisiana and elsewhere? If so, Jindal has guts that equal or surpass any of the famed iron-fisted governors of the state’s past. If not, at least it’s fun to think about to take our minds off this incredible insult to the state’s people that constitutes the present SB 672.


Tying HB 231 fate to SB 672 challenges Jindal

The power struggle between certain legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal continues to escalate, as demonstrated by the House’s rare and unusual veto overridden attempts.

As speculated in the most recent post, Jindal seems sincere in his desire to allow the Legislature to assert more authority with less gubernatorial interference. However, he may have no choice to involve himself decisively and in an uncomfortable way unless he values this principle so much that he will let policies he presumably does not support – nor are politically wise for him – go through.

The crux around which all revolves is SB 672, the legislator pay raise bill that would permit full-time pay for a job that, properly defined, is part-time. It squeaked out of the Senate on the backs of veteran legislators, many of whom have also served a number of years in the House, while a coalition of those principled enough to understand the nature of their jobs and/or newcomers were not enough to stop it.

The old warhorses generally favored it because of their positions in the state retirement system – even though these are part-time workers, long ago they enabled themselves to participate in the system. The way it works (which differs a little from the system used for many full-time employees since these part-timers can be retired involuntarily at the ballot box) is their pensions are based on their final three years of salary. Since the bill goes into effect Jul. 1, everybody who stays to the end of their terms who qualifies for a pension (10 years service) gets a much higher pension as a result.

With 59 new members without prior legislative service in the House, that dynamic does not influence its decision-making on this issue as much. However, political liberals usually favor this idea (because they believe they should be able to do what they want with government power and get paid using money that isn’t theirs to do it) and some rookie representatives suddenly feel put upon by their new pastimes. Those who complain about what they have to do and the pay isn’t enough either ran for the position in some state of unforgivable ignorance, or they do not understand the proper scope and role of government.

Jindal at first said he would veto such a bill, then said it was an internal legislative matter and he would not veto it (hinting letting the bill go into law without his signature) if it got to him. But he also must know of the tremendous public opposition to the bill, which legislative veterans disregard because they don’t plan on running again where the issue could be used against them, or, along with newer members, they hope the public will have forgotten about it all in three years when elections again roll around. Whether the public will is another matter regarding individual legislators, but Jindal must know in his case enough people will not forget if he lets this go through.

So, Jindal must be pinning his hopes on enough newer legislators and/or principled veterans in the House that they recognize giving themselves an enormous (as much as the median household income in the state) raise immediately runs counter to the very ideas about government and government service on which they ran. If that happens, then Jindal will have succeeded in stopping something he seems not to want without seeming overly intrusive into the Legislature.

But to get there, or at least to create this impression, he may have to allow a lot to happen. He may have to accept more restrictive legislation than he likes on public information made available from the governor’s office (HB 1100) and/or more legislative control over final capital outlay choices (HB 582). Or relenting on these might not be enough depending on how much legislative fervor is behind a raise. The evidence is mixed whether Jindal can, or needs, to promise enough to stop the hike without a veto.

On the one hand, Jindal had to catch on late to the passage of SB 87 to cut income taxes for all but the most trivial payers after legislative momentum was threatening to make him look like he was the only significance force trying to stop any tax cuts despite favorable words about them during his campaign. On the other hand, yesterday he succeeded in getting through the controversial HB 1347 which would create a quasi-voucher program that New Orleans primary school students could use to attend the public or non-public school of their choices.

Also yesterday, however, a significant vote occurred on a relatively unknown bill with limited impact. HB 231 would remove in effect the general statewide prohibition on investments in companies with facilities or employees in Iran, North Korea, the Sudan, or Syria for the state Firefighters Retirement System. Why author state Rep. Jean Doerge would want to exempt one system of about 20 from this, despite the fact that from a portfolio-balancing perspective the present law (less than a year in effect) should create next to no difficulties, readers will have to ask her, but even with a 75-16 margin for passage Jindal vetoed the bill on the basis of principle that states supporting terrorism should not have even indirect Louisiana state investment in them.

That the veto happened at all is remarkable. In the past, typically governors relay to legislative leaders their feelings about bills early on so those that will draw a veto either get altered or are quietly shunted away – especially on legislation that, frankly, is fairly trivial like HB 231. This means the more controversial bills get worked on to try to please everybody from the fourth floor on down, meaning they usually come for passage right at the end of the session. Governors especially employ this tactic because then in order to override, a special override session of the Legislature must be called which creates less incentive for an override to happen.

But Jindal apparently gave little warning that a veto was coming, since on a minor bill like this the Legislature either would have dealt with it in another way, or Jindal would have used a veto threat to stall it long enough that even if it did still pass he could veto it after the session was over. This makes even more remarkable the attempt to override it. Not only do they almost never happen – especially for such an inconsequential bill – but, with just a couple of exceptions, they never have succeeded.

Simply, the disposition of HB 231 has turned into a power play between the Legislature and Jindal. He vetoed it to show that he would grant the body latitude and be less intrusive than past governors but that, in the end, he still would exercise power and excise things he did not want if the Legislature did not share that view and thus dare it to exercise its power to override, and the House so far is taking him up on that offer.

Yet why this one bill? The reason why the dare and its counter are so significant is in the context of the battle over the pay raise. The importance of HB 231 is so slight that normally the Legislature would not have wasted its time in an override attempt. In fact, of the other two vetoed bills it probably was the least important, both of which passed the chambers far more easily than did HB 231 originally and one of which’s veto was easily sustained, while the other didn’t even get voted on. The choice of HB 231 over which to pick a fight was deliberate and significant.

By choosing to take up HB 231, the House signals to Jindal that it is more than ready to make an effort on any potential override on SB 672. The point really will be driven home if it succeeds today in another override attempt on HB 231, a signal for Jindal not to contemplate an SB 672 veto if it does get out of the House, currently scheduled for tomorrow. This is a bolstering tactic to strengthen wavering representatives who do not want to go out on a limb to support SB 672 if a veto is forthcoming that they think has no chance of being overridden.

Whether the tactic succeeds to get SB 672 eventually passed, Jindal must understand that the other prong of its threat, to cow him, cannot be allowed to succeed for his own political health. The negative fallout over his dithering on SB 87 cost him about 10 percentage points in popularity, and failing to try to stop SB 672 would probably cost him just as many while making an attempt to kill it might get him those 10 points back. This means he will have to appear to backtrack on his non-veto position (which he never made in a public forum, but was asserted that he did so by legislators), but as uncomfortable as that is, he’ll have to do it.

Not only is it the right thing to do, but not to do so would pose a significant threat to his long-term political career. If he knows that, even as this is being written messages will be going out to representatives from the Administration informing them what happens to HB 231 has nothing to do with what will happen to SB 672.


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.


Jindal motives set for revelation by fates of key bills

So why doesn’t Gov. Bobby Jindal make himself a very visible presence in hectoring the Louisiana Legislature to do his bidding? Some clues exist, but decisive ones will have come our way by the end of the session in less than two weeks.

Those observers who are lukewarm or less on Jindal and/or those who fall prey to conspiracy theories (such one who likes to see his name in print, to hear his own voice, and to make unsubstantiated allegations about those involved in politics who if supportive calls about Jindal are made to talk radio programs accuses them of being orchestrated by the Administration) claim Jindal’s aloofness allows him to be out and about raising his profile while simultaneously dodging controversial issues in order to further his political career. Others argue it’s just not Jindal’s style to take a visible, forceful approach to getting laws made and that he would rather his subordinates work out the details when he does feel it necessary to intervene.

His campaign rhetoric supports the latter interpretation. To some bemusement, Jindal said during his campaign that he really didn’t want to exercise a lot of power over the legislature, such as in picking officers and using line-item veto powers of legislators’ pet projects to influence votes (in part because he never has been thrilled with the existence of those earmarks in the first place). He ended up backtracking somewhat to sort out leadership struggles in both chambers, but his seemingly-casual involvement in big legislative matters, has been consistent with this expressed past sentiment. So far, the one visible interjection he made into the process on a big issue could go either way in interpretation – on SB 87, providing tax cuts primarily to middle-class filers, where either he hung back too much to avoid negative fallout and almost lost control of the issue, or his behind-the-scenes tactics proved ineffective and he had to express a public position to match the public mood.

But the real tests are coming, when legislative choices concerning legislation nearer to Jindal’s heart come. If Jindal truly wants to give the Legislature an unfettered option to make up its own mind and he does not object to the end product, he will allow certain pieces of legislation through. If not, we may assume that Jindal, rather than being aloof for whatever reason, instead prefers working behind the scenes.

One set of markers deals with pay raises for legislators (SB 672) and for Public Service Commissioners (HB 939). After initial progress, both have been hung up in the lesser compatible of the two chambers to Jindal’s conservatism, the Senate. These will not move if Jindal has spread the word they will be vetoed and it is unlikely he would keep this a secret. But if Jindal really doesn’t care about salaries of other elected officials and goes against the impression he thinks this would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, they will appear on his desk.

Even larger as evidence is the fate of HB 582 and SB 808 which do almost identical things in capital outlay budget reform which Jindal has said is a priority. The only real differences are that HB 582 allows for legislative choices of projects to fund after the bill has been signed and SB 808 requires a feasibility study for all projects. Jindal prefers the latter and if that is intimated that bill will go through. But if HB 582 instead makes it way to him, again it is doubtful that it would get there if he privately threatened a veto so that would indicate he truly does want the Legislature to assert itself in matters even at the expense of his own preferences if they are not that different.

Finally, bills involving disclosure requirements of the governor’s office offer one that is more comprehensive (HB 1100) and one that is less so (SB 629). Even as neither bill is ideal, the uninvolved-and-dodging-bad-publicity interpretation would have the stronger go through, while the behind-the-scenes-maestro interpretation would have the weaker win out.

The debate over Jindal’s style – involved only when it can aid his political career, or involved but hidden – might finally be resolved only at the session’s end. Or maybe not even then, if the signals from the dispositions of these bills come in mixed.


Cazayoux caught between electoral hard place and rock

It’s no accident that suddenly Democrat Rep. Don Cazayoux is doing his best to not look like a liberal now that Republican state Sen. Bill Cassidy has announced he will take on the Congressman of a month’s service in the fall.

Cazayoux, to fill an unexpired term in the Sixth District, squeaked by Republican nominee Louis “Woody” Jenkins last month but never left the frying pan. The Democrat he defeated in a runoff to get the nomination, state Rep. Michael Jackson, has not stopped campaigning and will either take a shot again at Cazayoux in the Democrat primary, or run as an independent in the general election.

If it’s the latter, then Cazayoux officially goes out of the pan and into the fire. He cannot win that race and the chances of Jackson pursuing the independent strategy only have increased as Sen. Barack Obama has become the presumptive Democrat nominee which is presumed will bring out the black vote in greater numbers (Jackson is black, Cazayoux is white) and by his attempting to sprinkle in conservative votes during his young Congressional career, such as being one of just a handful of Democrats to vote against their party’s budget which narrowly passed. (This vote means little in terms of Cazayoux’s beliefs as the liberal Democrat leadership gave him permission to defect on it because they counted enough votes with some to spare to pass; had they not had them, they would have made him vote in favor through the use of judicious threats.)

He is veering sharply right because physician Cassidy will be a formidable candidate. He’s been a member of the Legislature for only about 18 months but compiled one of the most solid conservative records in it. In getting there, he handily knocked off a former state representative whose district comprised a portion of the Senate district, so he’s a proven campaigner. He also has the ability to self-finance such a campaign and is well-regarded in the district where he is based in its urban heart as opposed to Cazayoux being from rural Pointe Coupee.

While Jenkins and the woman he defeated in the nomination runoff, Laurinda Calogne, may want to contest him for the nomination, they should realize discretion is the better part of value and that they face an uphill battle. If they defer (a decision that will be made within a month), Cazayoux is really caught between a rock and a hard place. With a candidate of Cassidy’s quality in the contest, he must try to cast as many high-profile conservative votes as possible to blunt Cassidy’s appeal, but that only will drive some more Democrats into Jackson’s camp.

If Jackson continues his quest and Cassidy lives up to his potential, look for Cazayoux to have one of the shortest stays in Congressional history.


Voucher opponents' arguments indicate their inabilities

Sensing a coming reduction in their power and privilege, establishment education officials and teachers’ unions are marshalling the same tired, unconvincing arguments to stop a quasi-school voucher program making its way through the Louisiana Legislature.

HB 1347 by state Rep. Austin Badon would allow the state to give up to $10 million dollars to back as many as 1,500 students from poor families in Orleans Parish to receive vouchers to attend the school of their choice – public or nonpublic – for primary school. Because some state dollars therefore could end up in the hands of private institutions, the education mandarins and union thugs are upset because it will force better performance out of them.

Notable is that this money does not come at the expense of public schools in any way, whose funding is guaranteed by formula. Despite that, some opponents have tried, illogically, to claim that it does. They say that since the formula depends upon the number of students in a school, if the scholarship program siphons students out of public schools, then they would receive less money (next year in the formula computation).

But such arguments crumble easily with even a cursory review of their logic. For one thing, the program is open to public schools as well. If education officials and unions had any confidence in the quality of their administrators and teachers, there should have no objection to the program for they would believe the public schools would snap up many of the students and the dollars they would bring. Instead, this line of reasoning reveals an open admission that public schools, on the basis of personnel, cannot compete with non-public schools and that attempts to block the program really are more about protecting mediocrity and resources than anything else.

Another aspect to them is the strange assumption that schools ought to get money even if students don’t show up. Doesn’t it make sense that if a student doesn’t go to a school that the school doesn’t need that monetary support but that it should go to where the student is? It’s absurd that these officials think money should go to schools regardless of whether they do any actual educating – but it has been that attitude rampant among bureaucrats and union which has put Louisiana public education into such a sad state in the first place. (Try not to think about it, but recognize that those behind these asinine statements are educating the majority of Louisiana youth; no wonder good education is hard to come by in this state.)

More recently, opponents have taken to claiming that private schools do not do a better job than public schools in education (again, assuming the scholarship recipients flock to private schools), with one claiming that on the basis of this year’s scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that private schools do no better than public. That’s hard to judge on the one scrap of information without knowing more (who takes the test, etc.), but even if true, it is inconsistent with almost every academic study on the effect of vouchers that show students in voucher programs not only outperform similar public school peers in learning but also do it at expenses of 60 percent or less than those in the public schools.

As one “dissettled” union nabob remarked, “Are they really interested in what is best for all the children in Louisiana or in pursuing very narrow ideological and political agenda?” The “they” he meant were those favoring the bill, but in reality the “they” far better fits his ilk. By making this into law, Louisiana will show it is concerned foremost with providing a quality education even at the expense of special interests.