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End of fee hike battle completes triumph of triviality

Guess what, if the Legislature is single-minded enough, it can get the governor to blink, as the current one Bobby Jindal did by signing the bill to roll back an increase of and to refund if that increase was paid individual drivers license fees. Just don’t expect that too often and maybe next time not on an issue that became totally trivialized.

Presumed inside information held that Jindal was going to deliver a veto after the constitutional deadline for legislative session closure, this Monday (85th day in even-numbered years) at 6 PM, thereby asserting it still came back on the 12th day after presentation to him. By doing so this would require a veto override session and all the trouble and extra expense that would incur to discourage it from happening and thereby foil any attempt to override this veto.

Forcing such an outcome may have seemed to be the only way to stop the bill. Given the House passed it several votes above the two-thirds necessary for an override and the Senate on concurrence to House changes with a couple of votes to spare (and there were absentees in each case), that made override chances great. Further, Jindal could not be sure he would have had a potent arsenal for governors to try to persuade individual legislators, the ability to veto so-called “members’ amendments,” line items in the operating budget that shovel money to private and public interests in a legislator’s district. This tactic may not have been available because the Senate already had forgone any such funds for senators and stripped out House members’ requests. These slush funds may reappear before it’s all over tomorrow, but the Senate’s resolve threw this into doubt.

Without much real leverage to flip some votes and his only tactic a very legalistic interpretation of the Constitution that would have brought charges of imposing his will against the will of the large majority, while it didn’t look good for Jindal to sign and therefore imply a mistake in judgment, it would have looked worse for him to veto and face a tough public relations battle, so he crossed up the purveyors of the information that he was going to veto (perhaps in the end, it was a pint-sized feint to make the bill’s author, state Sen. Joe McPherson, look silly by sounding a non-existent alarm although McPherson historically hasn’t needed anybody’s help to do that on his own).

Nor does the implicit threat of reducing State Police operations (the increased fee was to support them) seem to have materialized. The bill itself partly obviated that by stating district offices could not be closed, and other reductions just may have been too difficult to achieve without significant decrease in performance. The money will have to come from elsewhere so somebody’s oxen will get gored, perhaps most likely from the indigent and disabled and/or higher education.

So the Legislature found a backbone and branches of government able to spar against each other cannot be a bad thing. But one wishes it had found it long ago over far more serious matters, such as getting rid of slush funds, or refusing to build reservoirs, or paying nursing home operators (like McPherson) for empty beds, or any number of genuinely wasteful uses of funds as this one arguably had merit and demonstrable purpose. This one only happened because it was too politically convenient for many legislators to show they “cared” about constituents and for some because it was a jab at Jindal. So whether this incident represents improved governance in Louisiana is debatable.

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