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Serving It Up Cold



State lawmakers were burning up their cell phone minutes last week, trying to figure out whether to hold a veto override session in response to Gov. Bobby Jindal's 258 line-item budget vetoes. The political fallout from the vetoes is intense among legislators, but voters love what Jindal did. That cooled lawmakers'

heads quickly.

Last Thursday, Republican Caucus leaders gave Jindal comfort by urging their GOP colleagues to oppose a veto session. The next day, Senate President Joel Chaisson sealed it by quietly getting almost all senators to agree not to reconvene.

Behind the scenes, House and Senate leaders told their colleagues that the better course of action is to wait till next year, heeding the old wisdom, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." In politics, timing

is everything.

Next year, lawmakers could forestall post-session vetoes by holding up items that Jindal wants until late in the session while passing their own priorities earlier — at least 11 days before the session ends. Under Louisiana's constitution, a governor must decide whether to veto legislation within 10 days — if a bill is delivered to him with at least 10 days remaining in the session. Under that scenario, lawmakers could consider overriding vetoes of their priority bills during the regular session. Jindal, in turn, would have to weigh his vetoes carefully, lest he risk his own legislative priorities, such as additional money for his voucher program.

Moreover, each lawmaker may introduce up to five nonfiscal bills during the "fiscal only" sessions that occur in odd-numbered years. One bill that's sure to come up is Rep. Neil Abramson's "executive sunshine" law, which extends the notion of "transparency" to the governor's office. Lawmakers passed it unanimously in the recent session, but Jindal vetoed it after the session ended.

Jindal likes to talk about making government more transparent, but his is the most shrouded governor's office in the country. Abramson, a rookie Democrat from New Orleans, compromised the language of his bill to appease Jindal. Next year, look for him to return with the original, tougher terms intact — and for lawmakers to pass it quickly. If Jindal vetoes it, they could and probably would override him during the regular session. That's serving it up cold.

Another option for those bent on vengeance is an assault on Jindal's voucher program. Lawmakers probably don't have the votes to repeal the voucher law, let alone override a certain veto of a repeal. But, it only takes a majority of each chamber to fund the voucher program at whatever level lawmakers deem appropriate. Jindal asked for and got $10 million this year. No doubt he'll want to increase that next year. However, he can do that only with legislative authorization via the budget. Here's where the dish gets colder: What if lawmakers reduce, rather than expand, the appropriation for Jindal's voucher program? What if, say, they cut it from $10 million to $1 million? Or just keep it at $10 million?

No doubt if Jindal thought that were going to happen, he would have some "discussions" with lawmakers over lunch at the Governor's Mansion (not subject to the $50 entertainment rule) and try to reach some mutual accommodation — no deals, of course, just a deeper understanding of each others' position.

Going forward, however, Jindal has a new problem: Lawmakers no longer trust him. He burned them on the pay raises, on vouchers and on line-item vetoes. He has a long way to go toward rebuilding trust among lawmakers, and he has three more years of sessions — assuming he plans to serve out his term as governor.

One thing Jindal has in his favor is the likelihood of another huge state budget surplus. He could use that money to mend fences. The state needs a lot of cash for infrastructure, flood protection and coastal restoration. It may take even more to restore lawmakers' trust in the new governor.

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