Democrats urge Jindal to curb travel this year

Democratic legislative leaders responded to Gov. Bobby Jindal’s opening day speech Monday by saying they want Jindal to spend less time traveling outside the state.

“I call upon the governor to stay in Louisiana this year,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, who has said he plans to run for governor next year.

State Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans, and chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, said the governor should “stay home and not be such a roads scholar. R.O.A.D.S.”

Both verbal jabs took place during a news conference to respond to the governor’s plans for the three-month session, which he outlined during a joint session of the Legislature.

Jindal, who is considered a possible contender for president in 2016, has drawn criticism for months about his out-of-state travel, especially during periods of state financial problems.

The governor’s allies contend his time out of state has had no impact on his governing, and often raised the state’s visibility nationally.

Jindal devoted part of his speech to singling out several men and women who he said returned to the state or moved here because of policies put in place during his time as governor.

Edwards said last year the governor’s bid to abolish the state income tax, which included a major hike in the state sales tax, died at the start of the 2013 session amid heavy legislative criticism.

He said Jindal pitched his proposal then as one that was essential to keep residents from moving out of state.

“Today he said people were moving in in record numbers,” Edwards said.

“Obviously that was a good move on our part,” he said of the defeat of the income tax overhaul.

Democrats said they also plan to push for increased aid for public schools and higher education, bans on predatory lending practices and increased transparency on Tulane scholarships and records in the Governor’s Office.

Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, said Democrats also will push for Medicaid expansion, which Jindal has repeatedly rejected as a move the state cannot afford.

The federal government covers 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years and no less than 90 percent in the ensuing years.

Backers said the expansion would ensure health care for thousands of additional citizens and generate a heavy infusion of federal dollars.

“It is not only the moral thing to do. It’s the fiscal thing to do,” James said.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said equal pay for women doing the same work will be another priority.

“That particular issue has been long, long overdue,” St. Germain said.

Democrats also criticized the budget practices of the Jindal administration, which have featured controversial financial maneuvering amid state budget problems and Jindal’s pledge not to increase taxes.

They contend this year’s spending plan also includes too many gimmicks.

“The budget that has been presented by the governor is a farce, a farce,” Peterson said.

Jindal, a Republican, succeeded former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat.

Peterson said that while Jindal inherited a surplus of about $800 million from Blanco his successor will enjoy no such luxury because of years of budget patching.