Politics blog: Legislator wants voters to decide on Medicaid expansion _lowres

The Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge.

With Louisiana in a state of financial crisis and election-year politics hanging heavy overhead, 21 term-limited legislators are approaching the last and perhaps the most difficult legislative session of their tenures.

It’s the last session that 14 state representatives and seven senators can serve in their respective chambers, for each has hit a constitutional three-term limit. But many of the politicians aren’t leaving politics just yet.

At least one-third of them have announced or are considering runs for other elected offices.

Senate President Pro-tem Sharon Weston Broome, of Baton Rouge, and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Joel Robideaux, of Lafayette, are running for mayor of their respective cities.

Four term-limited House members are eyeing seats of term-limited senators. The four are Reps. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge; Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville; House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro; and Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa.

House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, a Lake Charles Republican, says he’s open to a run for state treasurer should incumbent John Kennedy decide to run for attorney general. Or Kleckley might run for mayor of Lake Charles in the future.

Some are flirting with unelected political jobs.

Others are leaving the door open for down-the-road election bids as “opportunities” develop.

Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, for instance, is supporting Democratic New Orleans Sen. David Heitmeier’s re-election with an eye on that Senate seat in the future. Republican Rep. Brett Geymann, of Lake Charles, mentioned a possible statewide or congressional bid “at some point.”

All the lawmakers, however, are preparing for the 2015 legislative session, which opens April 13. This being their last session, some have specific agendas to push, such as the controversial move to get Louisiana out of Common Core education standards or finding more reliable funding for highway projects.

Arnold wants to create a 65th parish out of portions of Jefferson and Orleans parishes on the west side of the Mississippi River. “The West Bank has always been the stepchild of Orleans and Jefferson parishes,” he said.

Geymann said budget and Common Core debates are “going to take most of the energy out of the room.”

“On top of that,” he said, “it’s an election year, and everybody’s going to try to manage that at the same time. Unfortunately for those running, they’re going to have some controversial votes.”

Geymann has taken a leading role in efforts to repeal Common Core, the new national standards in reading, writing and math that took full effect in Louisiana classrooms with the 2014-15 school year. He will return in the 2015 session to renew the fight, and he promises some “record votes” where constituents can see how their legislator voted.

The choices available for closing a $1 billion-plus state budget hole — cutting services or raising taxes — are both unsavory for legislators standing for election soon after the session.

“It’s going to be painful,” Fannin said. “I don’t see any avenues that aren’t painful.”

“Where do we cut that much money? There’s no hope of raising revenue,” Ritchie said. “Nobody’s going to want to talk about it, even though we need to.”

“The governor is not for raising taxes; neither is anyone running for election,” said Sen. Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, a retired judge whose post-Legislature plans include intermittent returns to the bench.

Kleckley said he does not know what to expect in a session where Gov. Bobby Jindal is on his way out, legislators are trying to stay in good graces with constituents in an election year, and some legislators are already positioning themselves for leadership positions next term under a new governor.

“I do think that legislators will have a closer ear to their constituents,” Broome said.

Jindal has said he would veto any legislation that increases taxes or fees, or reduces tax incentives, credits or rebates. The revenue measures require two-thirds votes for passage.

But at least one term-limited legislator — Sen. Ben Nevers, a Bogalusa Democrat — is floating the idea of an oil and gas processing tax, which has proven politically unpopular in the past when raised by Democrats or Republicans.

“It’s a fact. We either have to find a means of financing or close some of the universities and hospitals in our state,” Nevers said. “I don’t know where else you get that kind of money.”

And other term-limited legislators are looking to change the state tax structure. “A group of us have been talking about doing some things involving tax incentives, rebates,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans. “Nothing has been figured out yet. ... We owe it to our constituents to figure it out and do something responsible.”

Fannin said he will be working with Robideaux, who chairs the tax-writing committee, to see what might be possible. “Jindal has said he won’t veto anything that’s tax-neutral,” he said.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, and Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, both of whom chair transportation committees in what will be their last legislative session, say their top priority is to come up with a new funding stream for highway and road construction.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” St. Germain said. “We are so behind.”

There’s a $12 billion backlog of Louisiana road and bridge needs.

Adley added, “I want to at least leave being able to ensure money is available to maintain these roads and highways.”

However, both consider the prospects for major action poor.

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter, @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.