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Gov. Jindal reportedly angers state’s ideologues

18th June 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

As the 2012 legislative session closed, Bobby Jindal took fire from the right and the left over his budgetary priorities—and the subsequent vetoes rendered by the governor.

Yet, despite the gripes, this most recent legislative session in Baton Rouge may go down as one of the most consequential in Louisiana history. Jindal can claim credit for passing an educational initiative that ranks as groundbreaking, and enjoys support from key Repub­lican and Democratic constituencies, as well as boasting that under his watch bi-partisan popular issues, like term limits and the powers of the ethics board, expanded.

The governor even managed to enjoy a bit of praise from his biggest critic, C.B. Forgotston, and despite lingering memories of his failed State of the Union reply, remains near the top of Mitt Romney’s Vice Presidential short list.

Nevertheless, GOP Conservatives ended the session discontented with the state’s senior Republican. To the Jindal Admini­stration’s contention that state spending has been cut by 26 percent during the governor’s tenure, critics noted that the Division of Administration, Office of Planning and Budget, lists actual expenditures in Jindal’s first Operating Budget (2008/09) as $23.8 billion. The Operating Budget passed two weeks ago for FY 13 is $25.6 billion, or a $1.8 billion increase in four years — not including growth in Capital Outlay spending.

Such is the reason fiscal hawks in the House Republican caucus continue to seethe at Jindal. They blame the governor for not supporting their plan to cut $340 million from the state budget (including $267.7 million in one-time money for recurring expenses).

Instead, Jindal backed the Senate Finance Committee’s $204.7 million raid of Louisiana’s “rainy day fund,” boosting spending.

Jindal had called such a budgetary shell game irresponsible as a candidate for governor, yet thanks to the governor’s backing of the Senate move, the state budget increased by another $73 million over the initial estimates, worsening the fiscal picture for next year. The state will probably face mid-year cuts from the resulting spending that could further endanger health care and higher ed. Conservatives in his own party claimed that the governor betrayed his principles.

Meanwhile, on the Left, State Democratic Party Chairman and State Senator Karen Carter Peter­son aimed her guns at Jindal for vetoing an “Equal Pay Measure.”

SB 577, authored by Senator Peterson, authorized the creation of an Equal Pay Task Force. The Task Force was to focus on making recommendations to help close one of the nation’s largest gender pay gaps. As an incredulous Carter Peterson noted to the Weekly, “Instead of respecting women and the Legislature’s wishes, Governor Jindal vetoed SB 577. This follows the governor’s move to scuttle SB 568 in Committee, a bill that would have required all state employees to receive equal pay for equal work.”

“Louisiana has one of the greatest pay disparities in the nation. statewide, women earn 67 percent of what men do for the same work. Baton Rouge, our Capital and Governor Jindal’s hometown, has the fourth-worst pay gap of any metro area in the country. On average, women make 38 percent less in wages in Baton Rouge than men do.”

“By vetoing SB 577, Governor Jindal chose to celebrate his membership in the coalition of the status quo: He chooses to do nothing about the one of our nation’s worst gender pay gaps and turns his back on a basic concept even he should understand: Equal pay for equal work,” Senator Peterson said.

Despite his critics on the Left and Right, Jindal still made national news with his accomplishments in the 2012 legislative session.

For example, Louisiana becomes one of the first southern states to pass a bill to handle bullying in schools. SB 764 drew praise from both the Republican and Demo­cratic caucuses due to its focus training school personnel to spot problems, giving parents a chance to pull kids being bullied out of a public school where the problem is occurring and imposing a duty for school personnel to report and respond to bullying problems.

Likewise, urban Republicans and Rural Democrats hailed Sen. Neil Riser’s SB 303, a constitutional amendment imposing a “strict scrutiny” standard on any limitation on the right to bear arms within the state’s court system. The measure will go before the voters this fall. While gun control activists fought the measure, it passed with wide support, and made Jindal one of the NRA’s favorite governors.

Jindal can also boast to the taxophobic GOP base the passage of a myriad of business tax-relief bills. In essence, the multiple pieces of legislation provide Louisiana Economic Development Head Stephen Moret with a limited ability to offer rebates for payroll and relocation costs to prospective businesses as long as the joint House and Senate budget committees approve.

Included amongst the new tax credits are a 25 percent five-year rebate on relocation costs for companies moving their corporate headquarters to Louisiana and a payroll tax cut of between six percent and 15 percent for the creation of jobs paying high wages and carrying health insurance with them.

Moret has some of the best tools to attract major corporate investment (though many opponents worry that the new firms could compete against local companies lacking such tax preferences.)

While the majority of the governor’s pension reform package failed, Jindal did get one pension reform passed. HB 61 creates a cash-balance retirement program not dissimilar to a 401(k) plan for new state hires. This does little to end the current unfunded liabilities, but it should lessen the dangers of debt in the future. And, it is a path that few states have yet to enact, but has been a favored idea in fiscal conservative circles.

For social conservatives, Jindal can point to another abortion ban in the Pelican State. Excepting cases where the mother’s life is in danger, abortion after 20 weeks past fertilization will be illegal in Louisiana. Moreover, Doctors must give the prospective abortive mother the sonogram from her womb 24 hours in advance of an abortion, and provide a chance to hear the fetal heartbeat as well.

The bill’s next stop will be a Supreme Court test case, hardly a liability for Jindal in the VP sweepstakes.

The governor also managed to broker a compromise over the Legacy Lawsuits mess. In HB 618, Landowners and the oil and gas industry came to terms over how to clean up environmental damage caused by obsolete oil drilling practices. Defenders cited an LSU study this spring indicated that the legacy debate had cost the state some 30,000 potential oil and gas jobs. With natural gas and shale oil returning domestic exploration to nearly every point in Louisiana, settling the issue could launch a new oil boom as big as the 1970s.

While often thought of as a GOP issue, term limits remains popular amongst the grassroots of both parties, according to polls. Jindal can boast of expanding them for school boards. This fall, voters across Louisiana will have a chance to set term limits this fall for local school board members.

Also, with broad bipartisan appeal, Jindal can argue that he gave more teeth to the La. Ethics Board. The board will now have a right to appeal when it loses a case against a public official it accuses of violating the state ethics code.

However, overarching all of the other pieces of legislation this session was Jindal’s education reform package. Teacher tenure effectively ended, and the governor succeeded in his attempt to take New Orleans’ voucher program state­wide. (Critics have cited concerns over which private schools have signed up for it.) In another piece of legislation, tax rebates were granted to companies or wealthy taxpayers to give out scholarship money to private schools, to make up gaps in voucher grants. And, the rules governing the creation of charter schools were expanded, making their creation easier. Moreover, high school students who graduate early can use their Minimum Foundation Program funds to help pay for their Freshman year of college.

As for vetoes, C.B. Forgotston noted, “I called on Bobby to veto HB 38 that would have increased the current Unfunded Accrued Liability (“UAL”) in the state retirement systems…Bobby vetoed the bill. Either I’m starting to think like Bobby Jindal or he is starting to think like me. I’m hoping it is the latter, otherwise I’m going to have to increase my meds.”

Forgotston also praised Jindal’s vetoes of three measures that would have weakened gambling regulation.

Political observer Mike Bayham, himself an occasional Jindal critic, said that the governor is well placed now to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. “Jindal has a largely pristine ethical record and has pushed through a number of political reform bills that provide an uncharacteristically favorable national narrative for a Louisiana governor. Jindal would also be an articulate voice on the all-important issue of energy.”

“While covering the Iowa caucuses, I noticed how folks attending Rick Perry rallies seemed more interested meeting the Louisiana governor than the Texas governor. Jindal also has impeccable social conservative credentials, solving Romney’s ‘Santorum problem’ without having to pick Santorum. Jindal’s selection would come with an opportunity cost.”

“Louisiana is already in the electoral can for Romney so the GOP nominee would be passing up the opportunity to go with someone from a marginal state that could make the difference in a tight election.”

“There are those in the party who feel that Romney should pick someone who is not identified with the party’s evangelical base in order to make a play for independents that are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. These are the same people who have preferred Lieberman to Sarah Palin.”

“And then there was Jindal’s universally panned response to Obama’s first State of the Union address. That said, none of the aforementioned should be considered disqualifiers for Jindal.”

“Saturday Night Live” might mock Jindal as geeky, but they won’t be able to portray him as stupid or incompetent, especially when the current vice-president has, at times, come off more like Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin character from the Naked Gun movies than a man who is a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.”

“During his White House bid, former House speaker Newt Gingrich tried to sell his candidacy by asking Republican voters to imagine a Gingrich-Obama debate. I think a Jindal-Biden debate would be just as entertaining and one-sided for the GOP.”

“Fortunately for Jindal, voters in states with volcano problems tend to trend either deep red or deep red. As he prepares to face off against one of the most charismatic politicians in American history, the politically wooden Romney needs to inject his candidacy with some excitement. And an off-the-rack selection isn’t going to provide that. McCain had successfully accomplished that task before his inept campaign staff badly bungled the media rollout of Palin. In contrast, the Louisiana governor is already media-savvy.”

This article was originally published in the June 18, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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