Lame duck Gov. Bobby Jindal is desperately flapping his right wing, trying to gain altitude.
Speaker Chuck Kleckley is the Man of the Hour, or at least of the House.
Yes, the State Capitol has gone down the rabbit hole into a legislative Wonderland, but the power relationships at this point in the session are not as clear-cut as that image might suggest.
For one thing, the governor continues to hold significant levers of power over the ongoing debate over the budget.
The speaker, having rushed to the head of his troops once it became clear they wanted major changes in the state budget, is hardly in the commanding position of appearances. For the moment — a caution needed in all discussions of political coalitions — the alliance of conservative Republicans and House Democrats holds the House.
Again, for the moment, the governor deploys against the House revolt what seem like responses of limited effectiveness. Robo-calls and press-release spats between the House conservatives and the Louisiana Republican Party may create some lasting bad feelings, but Jindal has demonstrated that he has little regard for the sensitive feelings of the troops.
“The people of Louisiana are smart enough to know that’s a tax increase, and you’ve heard that from industry after industry,” he said of suspending tax exemptions. “When they look at their bottom lines when it comes to investing here, they know that’s a tax increase.”
Speaking of lame, the governor’s arguments on tax increases are pretty thin: Almost all the revenue raisers that House members have talked about to prop up the general fund were vetted by the governor during his pursuit of more sweeping tax changes. He can hardly cry “socialism!” about reduction or elimination of tax breaks that he himself proposed, or at least suggested as possibilities, this spring.
Still, as the midpoint of the legislative session passes, the governor retains very significant structural advantages over the Legislature.
One advantage is the timing of a new meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference. If held off for a while, the conferees may recognize new revenues becoming available in the new fiscal year. But if they do after the House passes the budget, House Bill 1, the Senate divvies up those new dollars, not the representatives.
And that suggests the real backstop for the administration is Senate President John Alario.
Alario, R-Westwego, is probably best known as Gov. Edwin Edwards’ leader in the House years ago. Long service in both chambers gives him leadership stature, as well as the wiles of experience, to lead the Senate in a budget crisis. Now a Republican, he’s still a pragmatist who will seek to broker a deal that bridges the divide between the chambers.
The governor’s intransigence is not Alario’s style, but he can be tough without the rancorous hard feelings with which Jindal’s second term has littered the Capitol.
If “Alice in Wonderland” is one literary analogy for what is going on in the Capitol these days, here’s another: Sherlock Holmes once solved a crime by remarking upon the fact that a dog did not bark in the night.
The president of the Senate’s powers, as well as personal influence, has not been felt yet.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is email@example.com.