In #nola, the answer to almost any question can be answered with "alright"
— ablulu (@ablulu) June 6, 2013
This week, Y@ Speak revisits the inaugural #twitterprom and its graceful champions and also-rans, as well as the last gasps of the 2013 legislative session, punctuated by colorful and unnecessary signage, poor grammar, and a writer's return.
Emerson once wrote of a political poseur, “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.” I thought of that quote when I noticed that the two biggest losers of the just-ended legislative session — Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor Mitch Landrieu — were the first to claim victory after adjournment sine die. Their self-congratulatory press releases hit my in-box literally minutes after the final House and Senate gavels fell.
The lads doth protest too much, methinks.
The 2013 session was unusual in many respects. It produced some of the oddest political bedfellows in memory. With few exceptions, this year’s session also lacked big ideas. The few bold initiatives that did get floated mostly got shot down in short order — starting with the governor “parking” his ill-conceived tax-swap plan. Truth be told, Jindal’s plan was never really in gear. And soon after he retreated on that front, he pretty much stayed on the sidelines for the duration of the session.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. As is our custom after a legislative session, before we pick the bones of the losers we first must pay homage to …
1. The Fiscal Hawks — They began as an ideological band of GOP outliers. Formally organized as the Louisiana Budget Reform Campaign, the hawks initially focused on budget reform, challenging Jindal’s use of one-time money to balance the budget year after year. They gained traction when the annual Southern Media and Opinion Research poll showed the governor with lower voter approval ratings than President Obama, then broke into full gallop when Jindal pulled down his tax-swap plan on the session’s opening day. They reached out to Democrats and the Black Caucus to cobble together a House majority, and when the governor disengaged from the process after “parking” his tax-swap plan, they filled the power void by rewriting the administration’s proposed budget.
As the session wore on, the hawks showed their mettle. When the Senate, as expected, put the budget back into a form more to Jindal’s liking, they stood their ground (with their new allies) and, for the first time in memory, brought both the Upper Chamber and the governor to the bargaining table.
The hawks also won key concessions on future budgets. Their tactics galled “mainstream” Republicans, but the hawks believe they stood for genuine GOP values and rediscovered the party’s fiscal compass. Along the way, they gave the Legislature something it hasn’t seen in generations: real independence. They also imparted a valuable lesson to anyone who happened to be paying attention: compromise and coalition building get a lot more done than name-calling and ideological gridlock. They also imparted a valuable lesson to anyone who happened to be paying attention: compromise and coalition building get a lot more done than name-calling and ideological gridlock.
A blow — and a decisive one — for Gov. Bobby Jindal's attempt to remake the Louisiana public education system:
Louisiana's Supreme Court has ruled that the funding method for a private school tuition voucher program pushed through the Legislature last year by Gov. Bobby Jindal is unconstitutional.
Tuesday's 6-1 decision upholds a state district court ruling that the state constitution forbids using money earmarked for public schools in the state's Minimum Foundation Program to pay for private school tuition.
There will be plenty of reaction soon. Scott McKay at The Hayride weighs in early:
This is hardly the victory the teacher unions will make it out to be, because Jindal can merely create a new line item in the general fund covering the voucher program and then cut MFP funding by a commensurate amount. Obviously he’s going to need to have a majority vote at the Legislature to make that happen, and it seems they’re a bit cheesed off at him at present, so that’s one more fight the governor probably doesn’t need.
But while the decision is more of an additional obstacle than a substantive defeat, its timing is atrocious for Jindal — and it will add to the perception that nobody’s minding the store — a perception that the current budget chaos is injecting jet fuel into.
Four years ago, Gov. Bobby Jindal hoodwinked lawmakers, the public and most of the Louisiana Press Association into supporting legislation that he uses to keep virtually all his administration’s records from public view. He also uses his enormous power to prevent that law from being overturned or narrowed.
The 2009 law, which Jindal cynically proclaimed a “transparency bill,” is a prime example of the old wisdom that the devil is in the details. It contains an Orwellian provision that allows anything deemed part of the governor’s “deliberative process” to remain secret. Under the law, Team Jindal gets to “deem” as liberally as it pleases.
Turns out Jindal loves to keep lots of things secret, particularly details about himself and his policies.
Since 2009, the Jindal Administration, including departments that are not even part of “the governor’s office,” have hidden behind the “deliberative process” scrim every time someone files a bothersome public records request. It’s why Jindal is widely known as the least transparent governor in America. More important, it makes it next to impossible for an average citizen, or even a news organization, to pry public information out of Louisiana’s executive branch.
Now that the feds are investigating the Jindal Administration for possible criminal violations relating to the hiring of a Maryland contractor, CNSI, to process the state’s Medicaid claims, it’s becoming clear why Bobby Jindal likes to keep things secret. Former state Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein, who previously worked for CNSI, pushed through changes to the bid solicitation that helped his former employer win the state contract.
Surprised? Don’t be.
Details about those rule changes, how they came about, and when, are precisely the kind of things that Team Jindal typically deems “part of the governor’s deliberative process.”
Lucky for us, that dodge doesn’t cut it with the feds. They have subpoenas. The rest of us, sadly, have to rely on Louisiana’s public records laws, which, thanks to Jindal, have been eviscerated.
That could change. State lawmakers are considering at least two bills to remove the “deliberative process” loophole. You can bet the governor will once again pull out all the stops to kill both measures — but there’s hope this year. Because Jindal is now even less popular in Louisiana than President Barack Obama, perhaps lawmakers will muster the courage to correct the grave error they committed in 2009.
Over the past several weeks, conservative lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee have questioned if, not when, the budget will be passed during the ongoing session that adjourns June 6. That means, not long after Gov. Bobby Jindal has “parked” his controversial tax swap plan, his budget could be stalling.
More recently, a few have even looked farther down the road in case there’s actually a head-on collision. “There’s more talk in the hallways about coming back for a special session on the budget than anything else,” says Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, chairman of the Budget Reform Coalition and a founding “fiscal hawk.”
A lot of folks can take credit for convincing Gov. Bobby Jindal to “park” his much-maligned “tax reform” plan last week, none more so than Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI). In the Capitol’s pack of lobbying hounds, LABI is The Big Dog — particularly on tax matters.
Jindal’s proposed tax-swap plan was already on life support even before LABI pulled the plug on it on March 27. When the state’s leading business lobby announced its opposition to any plan that would increase the tax burden on businesses (which Team Jindal admitted the plan would do), the patient was officially dead.
Or was it?
Jindal is still prodding lawmakers to eliminate the individual income tax. He just isn’t offering any advice as to how to do it.
As Juneau noted in his latest weekly column, the governor’s latest move actually exposes his true objective: eliminating the individual income tax at any cost. There’s danger in that.
Juneau has led LABI for decades. He has seen — and supported — many attempts at tax reform. His column offers some “unsolicited advice” to lawmakers. They should take it.
I’ve been around this process almost as long as Juneau. I’m quoting his advice below — and adding a warning of what will happen if that advice is not heeded.
The weeks leading up to Jindal’s speech last Monday brought tensions to a critical mass. The business lobby vowed opposition to Jindal’s plan, research groups questioned its math and public opinion tanked on the idea of exchanging personal income taxes for a significantly broader — and higher — sales tax.
The governor won lots of praise from national conservative think tanks, but inside Louisiana, the worm turned quickly against him — and against House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles. Endorsed for the gavel by Jindal and easily the governor’s most reliable legislative ally in the current term, Kleckley had delivered on education and retirement reforms last year and so far has kept the lid on serious budget objections from fellow GOP conservatives, known as the fiscal hawks.
As before, Jindal hoped Kleckley would keep the troops in line behind his tax-swap proposal, but House members urged the speaker to slow down the plan. Days after public opinion polls showed Louisiana voters solidly against Jindal’s proposal, Kleckley obliged his colleagues by pushing back the bill’s start date, explaining he wanted to wait until the Legislative Fiscal Office released its analysis. That meant a delay of at least two weeks, possibly more.
Against that backdrop, Jindal’s opening-day announcement that he had decided to “park” his plan was universally described as a defeat for the governor — if not an abdication on his part. Jindal effectively punted the entire issue of tax reform to lawmakers, urging them to find a way to pay for eliminating individual income taxes but offering no alternatives himself.
Previewed in this week's Gambit, NBC's Education Nation is a three-day "summit" with panel discussions and town halls focusing on schools, teachers, students and job opportunities in New Orleans. All events are streamed live on the Education Nation website and the final half-hour will air on partner station WDSU-TV.
On Friday, April 12, NBC News’ Hoda Kotb leads three panel discussions followed by a closing interview with Gov. Bobby Jindal. Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) superintendent John White will also be interviewed
The “Early Learning: Sowing Seeds for Success” panel features Dr. Geoff Nagle, director of the Tulane Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health; Pearlie Harris, director of Royal Castle Child Development Center; Tony Recasner, CEO of Agenda for Children; and Jenna Conway, executive director of Early Childhood with LDOE. The panel begins at 1:45 p.m. and will be streamed to the website.
The “K-12: Lessons from the New Orleans Experience” panel features Sarah Carr, author of Hope Against Hope; Leslie Jacobs; and Andre Perry, associate director for educational initiatives for the Loyola Institute for Quality and Equity in Education. Following the panel, there will be an interview with White. The panel and interview streams at 2:30 p.m. on the website.
“Job One: Preparing Louisiana to Compete in the 21st Century Economy” features Charlotte Bollinger of Bollinger Shipping; Rod Miller, CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance; Rita Benson LeBlanc; and Monty Sullivan, chancellor of Delgado Community College. That panel begins at 4 p.m. and will be streamed on the website.
The closing interview with Jindal begins at 4:45 p.m. Events from 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. also will air live on WDSU.
There’s a classic scene in the movie When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal are sitting in a crowded deli arguing about whether a man can tell when a woman fakes an orgasm. Crystal insists he can tell — and that no woman ever faked it with him. To prove him wrong, Ryan begins a show-stopping sexual soliloquy that, well, climaxes with her screaming, “Yes! Yes! YESSS!” — and pounding the table with both hands. She then casually picks up her fork and smugly continues eating as a sheepish Crystal and a stunned deli full of gawkers look on.
At a nearby table, an older woman puts down her menu and says to her waiter, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
I thought of that scene recently when I learned that Gov. Bobby Jindal had concluded that raising the state sales tax by 1.88 cents was not enough to cover the revenue that would be lost by eliminating the state income tax, as he proposes. The governor now wants to raise the sales tax by 2.25 cents — giving Louisiana a total state sales tax of 6.25 percent.
At first, I thought it was an early April Fool’s joke. It wasn’t.
Surely, I thought, the governor must be smoking some serious herb, which is legal now in some of the states he may have visited recently. His plan to give Louisiana the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the U.S. was already considered D.O.A. in the House of Representatives — and that was when he was “only” seeking to increase the state sales tax by 1.88 cents.
Even though he still doesn’t have a final draft of his tax-swap plan, Gov. Bobby Jindal has launched his statewide campaign to sell his gospel of wealth. He’s hoping to generate citizen support that will convince wary lawmakers to back his proposals.
For opponents as well as those who are merely skeptical of Jindal’s plan, time is of the essence. The longer business leaders and intellectually honest lawmakers defer to Jindal by “waiting to see the bill in final form,” the more they play into the governor’s hands.
Think back to last year, when Jindal spouted platitudes about “education reform” but waited, literally, until the last possible minute to present his bills — then rammed them through the committee process within days, giving no one a fair chance to study them. The result was, among other things, an unconstitutional voucher plan with virtually no accountability.
He’s using the same strategy with his tax-swap plan. He offers vague promises of “fairness” and “broadening the base,” but he and his tax-swap point man, Tim Barfield, executive counsel for the state Department of Revenue, offer few specifics — and then only in response to legislative and public pressure for more details.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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