As he reflects on the 2011 Regular Legislative Session, Gov. Bobby Jindal can claim success on extending tax breaks to businesses, increasing community college tuition and consolidating housing programs.
Other parts of the governor’s package faltered, including some of his biggest proposals.
Legislators refused to merge two New Orleans universities, sell prisons or force state workers to put more of their paychecks toward retirement costs. They declined to give the governor more power over the budget during a deficit. They balked at increasing costs for students at four-year universities on top of already-approved tuition boosts.
The governor’s legislative package included 35 initiatives for the House and the Senate to consider. Nearly a dozen of those ideas died during the session.
Controversial proposals stumbled. Easier ideas — such as cracking down on sex offenders and drug pushers — zipped through the process.
Some legislators said the governor was ambitious in his proposals and some failure is to be expected. Others said the youthful Jindal administration lacks the communication skills to persuade legislators to embrace ideas. Critics said arrogance and stubbornness prevented the governor and his aides from backing away from proposals doomed to fail, such as the sale of prisons.
Talking to reporters after the session ended Thursday, Jindal said it may take more than a year to push through big changes.
“When you try to change the status quo, it is going to be tough and there are going to be times when folks are going to oppose that,” he said.
Jindal pointed to what succeeded and said he fought off an attempt to weaken education accountability standards. He succeeded in:
Giving incentives to businesses that donate land for charter schools.
Expanding the encyclopedia of banned substances used to include hallucinogenic substances sold as “bath salts.”
Prohibiting certain sex offenders from using Facebook.
Spending $8 million to give a death benefit to the families of 32 Louisiana National Guardsmen killed in the line of duty.
On one key issue, legislators complied with the governor’s request, but gave him a side dish that he considers unsavory.
Legislators agreed to the governor’s proposal to dedicate additional tobacco settlement dollars to merit-based TOPS scholarships. However, the constitutional amendment picked up a hitchhiker that Jindal opposed. Voters will decide in October whether to approve the amendment, and in doing so, deciding on the renewal of a 4-cent cigarette tax that Jindal considers to be a tax increase.
Work on the session wrapped Thursday with legislators lugging boxes of mementos home. Many will not return next year because of elections and term limits. With most of the big issues out of the way early in the week, legislators playfully snapped rubber bands at each other across the House floor Thursday as the clock ticked toward the 6 p.m. end of the session.
Jindal created a stir when he strolled into the House chamber to watch the passage of a money proposal. The governor — who once described himself as not much of a hugger — embraced legislators, including some who vehemently opposed his proposals during the session.
The jockeying on college mergers and other controversial ideas was over. The mood now was jovial.
Opinions vary among legislators on whether the failure of so many of the governor’s proposals was a personal strike against him. However, numerous legislators said a surge of independence in the House clashed with the governor’s aloof management style.
“He swung for the fences and he hit a few home runs, but he also struck out a few times,” said state Rep. Mert Smiley, R-St. Amant.
“If he got personally involved in some of the more important bills, he could’ve gotten them passed,” Smiley added.
State Rep. Ernest Wooton, No Party-Belle Chasse, said the governor has wonderful intentions, but tends to be a little too conservative for his own good.
“He needs to listen a little bit more. He’s 40 years old. I’ll be 70 in October,” Wooton said.
State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, said communication is better when it is done months before session, instead of days before.
“Responsible public servants want to work together and don’t want to be force-fed solutions,” Leger said.
State Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, said he usually stands with the governor but could not go along with the prison sales. He said his constituents made it clear they opposed the proposal.
Long sponsored legislation on the governor’s behalf to give him the ability to cut more deeply during a budget deficit. That legislation died in a House committee.
“I think it just was a contentious, cautious House that looked at the administration bills,” Long said.
State Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton and a frequent critic of the governor, said the Jindal administration needs to work with legislators.
“For the last three years, the governor’s staff has been very disrespectful of the Legislature. Sooner or later, that catches up with you,” Adley said.
Other Republican legislators give the governor credit for pushing controversial ideas.
State Sen. Buddy Shaw, R-Shreveport, said Jindal can make a case for the failures not being his fault.
“The session went OK, and I don’t think it’s going to be a detriment to him,” Shaw said.
State Rep. Bodi White, R-Central, said the prison sales plan was a tough proposal since prison workers strongly opposed the idea.
“Once you start a form of government and hire employees, you build a constituency,” he said.
White agreed with the governor that it often takes several years to implement big changes.
House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, said the genie is out of the bottle on the House’s independence. Among other things, the House resisted using one-time money, such as revenue from prison sales, to pay expenses that must be met year after year.
“Where the governor succeeded, he had solid policy. When it was not easy to explain, not thought out, or not communicated well with members of the Legislature, that’s where he failed,” Tucker said.
Marsha Shuler with the Capitol news bureau contributed to this report.