In the lore of the State Capitol, this year’s Legislature might be best remembered for the coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans in the state House who balked at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget plans.
Louisiana government is often compared to that of Third World countries, where the governor rules supreme and the Legislature does his bidding. If not exactly as far-reaching as a revolution in relations between the executive and legislative branches, this year was noteworthy for the pushback against the governor in the budget battle.
A late-hour compromise between the House and Senate negotiators led to adoption of a budget for the new year beginning July 1. We remain concerned that the budget is built on some pretty shaky foundations, particularly the use of proceeds from a corporate tax “amnesty” program.
This is, despite the pretensions of the House as “fiscal hawks,” another use of one-time money in the operating budget. Numerous other gimmicks in the budget were inspired by Jindal or lawmakers. They seek to avoid tax increases, but many lawmakers of both parties will concede in private the state government needs more money in terms of flexible revenue.
That, though, is a dispute for another day. Whether lawmakers will develop their insurgency of the summer into a sustained alternative to gubernatorial power remains to be seen. For, if one looks beyond the sparks of the debate, the governor’s major priorities remained in the budget, particularly when money was so scarce; one key priority of Jindal’s that was funded expands a program of vouchers for private school tuition.
The governor also was mostly successful in defending against efforts to repeal or water down his education plans that were so controversial in the 2012 session. He also blocked efforts to stop or delay his privatization of charity hospitals, a major initiative where the Legislature has been for more than a year basically left out of decision-making.
Strikingly, the session began with Jindal abruptly abandoning his much-discussed but unpopular plans for comprehensive tax changes. In a short fiscal session, the tangle over the budget then took much of the attention. Still, the governor’s session of back-seat driving was probably as successful as he could wish, particularly in light of the tax setback at the very beginning.
What we don’t get in this session is, then, two-fold. We don’t get a budget that is based on sound revenue streams. Despite a slowly improving economy, there would not be good odds at a bookmaker’s about avoiding mid-year budget cuts. The governor and Legislature gamble in this way with the financial health of state universities and other institutions.
Nor do we get a real sorting-out of powers between the governor’s office and the Legislature downstairs. The State Capitol this year was a scene of a skirmish, not a revolution.