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Jindal veto, Legislature override serve each's interests

A week or so after the 67th anniversary of D-Day, Gov. Bobby Jindal looks set to suffer V-Day, or his need to cast a veto that may result in only the third successful override of a gubernatorial rejection under Louisiana’s 1974 Constitution.

The Legislature seems ready, willing, and able to assist him. After the Senate processed HB 591 by state Rep. Harold Ritchie in its unamended form, quickly with a speed seldom seen, got it hightailed over to the House for the speaker’s signature, back to the Senate for its president’s, and then zipped to the Governor’s Office within a short period of time (they actually have three days to do it) to start the clock on the governor’s portion of time dealing with the bill.

Art. III Sec. 18 deals with the procedure, meaning essentially in the next several hours he has to cast that veto or the bill becomes law.
When the message is transmitted (a reason for it can be held up for two days more) then the Legislature gets a crack at it, requiring a two-thirds vote in each chamber to override. It originally passed the House with no votes to spare, and with three in the Senate. This gives the Legislature as many attempts as it likes to cull such supermajorities for the last 11 days of the regular session, plus an entire veto session of five days length that could be called, if majorities of both chambers do not disapprove of it by Jul. 31 in time for the presumed beginning of that session Aug. 5.

The bill renews permanently a four cents-a-pack cigarette tax which would otherwise expire Jun. 30, 2012. Jindal has vowed he would veto it, calling it a tax increase because it makes this temporary tax permanent. The bill dedicates the funding to health care measures to the tune of $12 million a year.

While from a policy perspective whether this money manifests in the budget is important, political considerations are more interesting. Jindal must decide whether to carry through and, if so, what the implications would be if he cannot prevent an override. As it is, Jindal has every incentive to do as he said he would.

True, Jindal went back on a vow not to veto a high-profile measure of three years past, legislators helping themselves to a full-time salary for part-time work. However, then he had public opinion solidly backing him, and while it made him look a bit flighty to say one thing then do another, he came out better politically by casting that veto, which never got challenged. In some ways the situations are similar, as the public appears to back this increase, so he could do what the public wants again. But, unlike on that occasion, his vow does not reflect a fundamental principle that he has claimed. Respecting “legislative independence” might have a nice ring to it, but it hardly draws any public attention or generates salience among it as an issue preference, while with “no new taxes” Jindal has asserted as a bedrock belief of his, so to sell out on something he defined that way would impact significantly seriously perceptions of his fidelity as a politician as well as his image as an ideological conservative.

So Jindal must veto on a matter of principle, but also on pragmatism, for, little harm would come to his political bank account even if the override attempt succeeded. Optimally obviously it would fail, allowing Jindal to demonstrate economic conservatism, smaller-government sympathy, and the ability to get what he wants out of state government. Yet even failure carries many more positives than negatives. Certainly he would be seen as weaker with a successful attempt, but he still can hit the hustings this fall with tax-cutting credentials intact, inveighing rhetoric about how he went to the wall to protect the people from tax hikes, and waiting for a possible backlash against a few who voted for it with their replacement by more sympathetic challengers for next year.

Therefore, Jindal should tee it up for the Legislature to take a whack, one which should be successful. With public support as it is, not many legislators should feel significant retribution and they can claim, rather unconvincingly, that it is “doing” something to improve health (although a genuine expression and commitment without revenue considerations would be to approve of SB 133 to ban smoking almost every public place where now it may occur). Like Jindal, they will do what brings more political benefits, so look for these very base reasons to play out dressed up by lots of political drama and pageantry over the next week or so.

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