by Clancy DuBos
This years legislative session went swimmingly for Gov. Bobby Jindal, but for many others it was a drowning pool. Heres our annual recap of Da Winnas and Da Loozas of the annual session:
1. Gov. Bobby Jindal The governor rammed through his transparency bill (which critics say actually reduces transparency in the governors office), got the budget more or less as he presented it, killed any and all tax increases, and kept lawmakers from raiding his economic development mega-fund. His few losses seem almost insignificant by comparison, such as his failure to secure repeal of the motorcycle helmet requirement. If there was a major setback, it was the failure of a proposed constitutional amendment designed to give legislators and the governor more flexibility to cut budgets in times of fiscal hardship.
2. Saints owner Tom Benson The new Saints deal eliminates the teams direct subsidy, but it gives Benson something almost as good: a nice building downtown with the state paying above-market rent as a tenant and $85 million in Superdome renovations.
3. Local School Boards They prevailed on every front against an all-out assault by state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek, who wanted to rein in their authority (and propensity) to meddle in administrative affairs. Pastorek also sought to impose term limits on local school board members, bar nepotism, and cut their salaries. All four initiatives failed.
4. Restaurants Ethics reform may have cut into lobbyists ability to wine and dine lawmakers, but restaurants still carry a lot of clout around the Capitol. Leges passed a bill allowing restaurants to offer drink specials and live entertainment without violating state alcohol regulations. State Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Murphy Painter recently fined some restaurants for allegedly operating as bars with drink specials and/or live music after hours. A Senate bill clarified the definition of restaurants and overturned Painters application of the law.
5. Business Interests Big Business beat back every attempt to raise the homestead exemption even though an increase seemed to be gathering steam when the session opened. Business folks also helped kill a measure designed to accept $98 million in federal stimulus spending that business leaders (and the governor) claimed would lead to higher business taxes down the road.
Which brings us to
1. Higher Education State colleges and universities convinced lawmakers to restore $100 million of $219 million in proposed cuts, but at the end of the day colleges still found themselves with 7 percent less in state funding. That reduction will be tempered somewhat by a $30 million tuition increase, but the long-term picture looks bleak. That means some entire programs could be on the chopping block next year and the year after.
2. Health Care Lawmakers restored $233 million in combined state and federal matching funds but still cut the health care budget by a net of more than $260 million. Whats worse, most of the $233 million that was restored will go to nursing homes and rural hospitals away from most of the uninsured patients. New Orleans Adolescent Hospital (NOAH) seemed to get a reprieve from the budget ax when lawmakers voted to restore 67 positions at the Uptown facility, but Jindal may line-item veto that decision.
3. State Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek The states leading education reformer lost all of his attempts to rein in local school boards AND failed to defeat the co-called career track bill that lowers standards for admission to high school for students who are perceived to be dropout risks. Pastorek had some high-powered help in his reform efforts, but he was no match for local school board members, many of whom helped elect the decision makers.
4. LSU LSUs baseball team may have won the national title, but the universitys political team lost big this year. LSU lost control of the proposed teaching hospital in New Orleans when it was forced to accept a compromise giving some hospital board seats to other colleges and universities, particularly Tulane. LSUs board then overplayed its hand by attempting to amend the compromise unilaterally to give itself more board seats a move that further antagonized lawmakers. Meanwhile, LSU System president John Lombardis comments to an LSU foundation gathering recorded on tape and posted online made LSU look like an arrogant bully in the ongoing hospital controversies (there are several) and cost LSU a ton of political capital, particularly his remark that legislators need to get out of the way. As a final slap at LSU, the state halted land acquisition for the new hospital, no doubt in response to the LSU boards attempt to rewrite the compromise.
5. New Orleans Developers Opponents of the citys Master Plan (read: local developers), tried several times to get the House to approve state Sen. Ed Murrays Senate Bill 75, which would have put the citys final Master Plan document to a citywide vote of the people. They came up short each time. This issue seems destined to take center stage in the upcoming citywide elections as Murray says hes running for mayor. His only announced opponent, state Rep. Austin Badon, voted against the bill.
Some of this stuff never ends.