The 2015 session of the Louisiana Legislature will be remembered as one that lived down to all advance expectations. There was high and low drama, a slew of missed opportunities, an absentee governor and a last-minute "SAVE" that won't actually rescue anything — especially not Gov. Bobby Jindal's stillborn presidential aspirations. I wouldn't be surprised if he announces his resignation when he declares his candidacy June 24.
Meanwhile, the governor has until early July to veto a flurry of bills that lawmakers passed in the session's final days. That means the bloodletting won't end until then, but at least lawmakers can't do any more harm.
Which brings us to our annual assessment of the legislative carnage: Da Winnas and Da Loozas. Here goes.
1. Higher education — Public colleges and universities faced a death sentence at the outset of this year's session, but they wound up getting the lion's share of revenue from new tax hikes. Public universities won't be fully funded next year, but they fared far better than many expected three months ago. Best of all, they now have a political base. Voters drew the line on more cuts after years of Jindalian attrition.
2. Health care — Increasing the cigarette tax means Louisiana can leverage hundreds of millions in federal dollars for public health care. Like higher ed, health care dodged a bullet this year.
3. Democrats — Louisiana has a Republican governor, a Republican legislature, and no Dems holding statewide office. Despite that, legislative Dems leveraged their numbers with a few brave (read: intellectually honest) Republican lawmakers on key issues. Meanwhile, the GOP struggled to find its fiscal and political compass. Examples of Dem wins include a strengthened domestic violence law, saner marijuana laws, a higher cigarette tax, killing the "paycheck protection" bill and killing the anti-gay "religious freedom" bill.
4. Public sector unions — Organized Labor assembled a strong coalition to kill the so-called paycheck protection bill, which would have ended automatic deductions of union dues for unionized public employees. This was a huge defeat for Big Business.
5. Common Core supporters — Once again, a bipartisan majority of lawmakers snuffed out all attempts to kill or weaken the state's Common Core program. Lawmakers passed three conjoined "compromise" (read: face-saving) bills that sacrifice virtually nothing — and if Jindal vetoes any of them the existing Common Core program remains intact.
6. Marijuana reform advocates — Lawmakers passed a bill that finally brings medical marijuana to Louisiana, along with reductions in Louisiana's draconian penalties for mere possession of weed.
7. Louisiana's LGBT community — Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people found a remarkable cast of supporters ranging from Dow Chemical to the Jefferson Chamber in the face of a bigoted "religious freedom" bill that sought to legitimize discrimination in the name of religion. The defeat of House Bill 707, the so-called "Marriage and Conscience Act," was one of the few high points of the session.
8. Local governments — They beat back Big Business' push to eliminate the inventory tax, thereby preserving a major source of local revenue.
- Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, may have more influence over Louisiana lawmakers than the governor does.
9. Grover Norquist — He doesn't live here, doesn't vote here, yet he has more sway in the Louisiana Legislature than the current governor. It's not because he's so powerful, but rather because our governor and too many lawmakers are so spineless — proving once again that in politics, as in tennis, it's possible to win by default. Which brings us to ...
1. Gov. Bobby Jindal — He pitched three priorities on Opening Day: repealing Common Core, passing a "religious freedom" bill, and ending "corporate welfare" (the state-funded inventory tax rebate). He went 0 for 3, gave Louisiana its largest tax hike in memory, spent most of his time campaigning for president, and managed to sink even lower in public opinion polls. His last-minute save of "SAVE" will be repealed in January by the next Legislature and governor, and his post-session claim of "revenue neutrality" will rank alongside George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" as one of the great Orwellian claims by an American politician. More important, the world now knows that Bobby Jindal is the fiscal equivalent of Bernie Madoff — only nobody actually buys into his budgetary Ponzi scheme. If Jindal somehow gets elected president, his policies will put the U.S. economy on par with that of Greece before the end of his first term.
2. Big Business — When a Republican governor rails against "corporate welfare" on Opening Day, you just know it's gonna be a bad year for business. Things went downhill fast for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Louisiana Chemical Association, the two biggest players, as lawmakers practically invented new ways to hike business taxes. Business interests got a small reprieve on the last day when tax hikes were made "temporary," but there's no guarantee they won't be renewed. LABI also failed to pass its two top initiatives: repealing the inventory tax in its entirety and repealing the automatic payroll deduction of union dues for public employees.
3. Louisiana Family Forum — The self-anointed guardians of state-sponsored morality and "Christianity" lost to one of their favorite demons — gay people — on the so-called "religious freedom" bill. God is truly merciful. LFF also suffered a rare defeat on an abortion bill as a measure to ban abortions based on gender selection died in Senate committee.
4. Republicans — After GOP lawmakers held their noses and passed Jindal's SAVE Act in the final hours of the session — after imposing more than $3 billion in taxes on businesses over the next five years — one could legitimately ask, "What does the Louisiana GOP stand for, anyway?"
5. Common Core opponents — They were full of sound and fury, but in the end they got a "compromise" bill signifying nothing. The new law requires the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to hold public hearings, review standards and modify test questions — all of which it was going to do anyway.
6. Smokers — Lawmakers hiked the cigarette tax to 86 cents per pack and refused to weaken the New Orleans ban on indoor smoking.
7. The solar industry — Solar tax credits were already on track to be phased out, but now they will be phased out even faster — and severely limited.
8. The film industry — Louisiana-based filmmakers actually won under the new tax credit bill because their films get preferential treatment, but the new cap of $180 million a year, which applies even to films already certified for credits, threatens to make that a hollow victory. The real losers are big Hollywood films and tax credit brokers.
9. Car buyers — Lawmakers jacked up the price of vehicle titles by $50 (from $18.50 to $68.50) to give State Police a pay raise. No wonder troopers are so polite.
10. The next governor — The Senate voted to elect its leadership via secret ballot starting next January, which means future governors won't automatically dictate who becomes Senate president. This is a huge win for current Senate President John Alario, who is eligible to serve one more term.