Our Views: Few goals, few gains

For Gov. Bobby Jindal, it’s been a great session of the Louisiana Legislature.

“We’ve had a great session, and I would like to thank the Legislature for their hard work,” he said Monday.

Of course, he always says that, year after year. We wonder what the Legislature would have to do, what chaos into which it would have to descend, to lead the governor to declare it a horrible session.

But looking at it from the governor’s point of view, he has two remarkably positive outcomes from the 2014 Legislature. One is that he has managed expectations by pushing a relatively modest legislative agenda, measures not a particularly heavy lift politically. New bills were aimed at sex offenders or — almost as unattractive to the Republican Party — trial lawyers. Those usually do not require great political exertion.

And with the recession easing its grip on state revenues, the governor was able to push in his budget some politically attractive benefits for important constituencies. State employees and retirees get modest raises; budget cuts fall less severely on public schools and state departments; colleges get to keep tuition revenues that in the past Jindal raided to balance his rickety budgets.

Although a much-touted $40 million fund for workforce education is less than meets the eye — its new net cash for colleges is probably $11 million or so — it is something that the governor can count as a victory, too.

On defense, the governor’s political priorities were protected.

As a virtual governor, mostly focused on national politics, any extensive legislative revolt against priorities he will promote on the campaign trail would have been a serious threat. But signature achievements such as tuition vouchers for private schools are retained and even enhanced; privatization of the last of the old charity hospital system continues; an initiative soiled by association with President Barack Obama, expansion of Medicaid insurance for the poor, was rejected.

So if it’s always a great session, a constructive session, a good session for the people, on the rawest political calculus this year is a pretty good session for Jindal. His poll numbers, once low because of controversies involving state schools and hospital privatization, are not hurt by raises or other benefits handed out this year by lawmakers. In fact, his polling might improve.

Unfortunately for the state, the short-term nature of this year’s accomplishments is obvious to many lawmakers, including those in Jindal’s orbit, who worry about the endless expedients needed to balance the budget. Rounding the potential shortfalls facing the 2015 Legislature, Jindal’s last of his term, one gets to around $1 billion in real cuts or new revenues that will be needed. “Whatever the actual shortfall figure turns out to be, it is likely a very large gap,” said the Public Affairs Research Council.

By then, if the State Capitol has seen little of Jindal this year, he is likely to get even busier on the national front. Those lawmakers worrying about next year, or those who have any longer-term vision for Louisiana than Jindal’s, have a right to be very worried indeed.

A great session, a constructive session? We have our doubts.