Inside Report for June 28, 2013

Jindal takes veto pen to state budget

Like the thump of a ball over the outfield fence during the final inning, the arrival of the state budget bill on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk must have been a welcome event.

The $25 billion state spending plan’s arrival put Jindal back in the driver’s seat after a disappointing few months.

His bid to eliminate the state’s income taxes died on the first day of the session. His sinking approval rating in Louisiana caught the attention of national bloggers. His own state budget proposal was received so unfavorably by the House that legislators tossed it in the garbage can.

Jindal whiled away the days playing defense by fending off attempts to expand the Medicaid program.

Now the governor had legislators’ budget approach in one hand and his veto pen in the other hand.

First, though, he burned off a little creative energy by firing up his computer and writing an advice column for national Republicans.

Jindal offered some comforting words about the number of Republicans in governor’s mansions across the nation, and then embraced the tough-love philosophy. He told Republicans “to stop the bedwetting” and “kick the other guys around.”

In an epic, run-on sentence that topped 100 words, he dismissed the left as abortion-loving, soda-guzzling tramplers of constitutional rights.

The column distracted national political junkies from the governor’s sagging popularity rating in Louisiana, and the failure of his tax plan. But rather than laud the governor’s prose and political ideas, they attacked his snarky tone and sentence structure.

If the idea was to resurrect the governor’s once seemingly promising national political future, the goal failed.

Jindal wrapped up the week by tackling the state operating budget that funds health care and higher education. He also turned his attention to controversial bills that made it to his desk.

The governor vetoed bills to set up a legal framework for surrogate births in Louisiana, to help fund Juban Crossing in Livingston Parish and to aid the New Orleans convention center in expanding its footprint. In the budget, he stripped out funding for the developmentally disabled, arts programs and parish emergency preparedness centers.

If the idea was to produce a burst of news that would sputter out over the weekend, the goal failed.

Public-testimony day usually pulls in waiver groups by the droves. They wear brightly colored T-shirts. They push strollers holding children hooked up to portable ventilators. They plead with legislators to whittle down the waiting list.

This year, the Legislature heeded the cries and added money to remove 200 people from the waiting list. The governor reversed the decision.

The veto awoke a community that actively and vocally fights for funding to keep the disabled in their homes.

Some were born with disabilities. Others, like Duane Ebarb, saw their lives take a dramatic turn.

Ebarb broke his neck during an outing to an East Texas lake on Labor Day weekend in 1968. Forty-five years later, he lives in Shreveport and works as an advocate for families with special needs children.

Early in her husband’s first term as governor, first lady Supriya Jindal gave Ebarb an award for his advocacy work. Now Ebarb is working to reverse the governor’s decision.

“I have been at odds with Bobby Jindal big time in the last two years. He is no fan of people with disabilities,” he said.

Michelle Millhollon covers state budget issues for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is mmillhollon@theadvocate.com.