It wasn’t what anyone would call pretty, but the Louisiana Legislature adjourned for the year Thursday evening after frantically adopting a series of last-minutes bills that, taken as a whole, headed off the worst-case fiscal scenario.
Gov. Bobby Jindal presumably won’t veto either the budget or any of the big money-raising measures, as he’d threatened to do throughout if lawmakers didn’t give him a package that he could label as revenue-neutral. The final product is no such thing, of course -- many a business will pay more in taxes -- but it meets the “revenue -neutral” standards that nobody but the governor and the Washington group Americans for Tax Reform seem to accept.
And that’s good enough for Jindal, who declared himself “’proud that we came together this session to pass a balanced budget that protects higher education and healthcare without a tax increase,” and then went back to preparing for yet another presidential road trip, this time to early voting states South Carolina and Iowa.
A few quick thoughts on the final afternoon at the Capitol:
1) The linchpin of the whole budget showdown was the much-derided SAVE bill, which creates a per-student assessment that nobody will pay and a corresponding tax credit that nobody will receive. The credit part of the equation allows Jindal to sign a series of unrelated revenue measures while claiming -- as he was clearly eager to do -- that he hadn’t raised taxes.
Despite near-universal disdain, SAVE passed somewhat easily, but not before supporters played one last semantic trick. By deeming the phantom charge an assessment, Speaker Chuck Kleckley ruled that it needed a simple majority of 53 votes in the House, not the two-thirds a new “fee” would have required. That was key to passage in the lower chamber, where the measure was adopted 59-44. The Senate approved it by a much wider margin, 30-9.
2) How badly did Jindal want this? So badly that he actually showed up in the House chamber in person, setting off a flood of astonished tweets and a few jokes about whether he’d gotten lost. That’s how absent he’s been during this most wrenching of legislative sessions.
3) Remember the 11 House Republicans who wrote to ATR president Grover Norquist last weekend and essentially asked him to let Jindal stop demanding that the SAVE workaround be part of the final solution? Three of them, Kirk Talbot, Lance Harris and John Schroder, ultimately wound up voting yes. Meanwhile, Ways and Means Committee chairman Joel Robideaux and the rest joined a long list of Democrats who were nearly united in their refusal to give Jindal cover, and voted no.
4) Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger probably has a perfectly bright future in politics. But if he decides to go another direction, Leger should consider a career as an auctioneer. His rapid-fire handling of the final but extremely important bills was a wonder to behold. (He handed the gavel back to Kleckley in the final minutes, but Leger pushed much of the final action). In fact, by my calculation, the House may have finished up its frantic final business a minute or so before the clock struck 6:00 and the session, by law, had to end.