In advancing a cigarette tax renewal to the voters, legislators thwarted Gov. Bobby Jindal without actually overriding his veto.
Jindal rejected the 4-cent renewal as a tax increase. A bid to override his veto failed in the House after 11 legislators, who initially embraced the tax renewal proposal, flocked to his side.
The renewal did not die there.
State Rep. Harold Ritchie, D-Bogalusa, breathed new life into it when he stuck the renewal on a constitutional amendment bill. The amendment — aimed at generating more money for a popular college scholarship program — was something the governor wanted. There were suggestions the amendment would have failed in the House without the renewal attached to it.
In the end, voters will decide in October whether to keep intact the state tax on a pack of cigarettes. They also will vote in the same election whether to keep Jindal in office.
The 2011 legislative session was rocky for the first-term governor.
Some of his proposals failed, including a New Orleans college merger, added budget flexibility and prison sales.
The House adopted a rule to limit the use of one-time money for recurring expenses in the state operating budget.
The rule made many of Jindal’s budget-balancing ideas unworkable, raising the suggestion that the governor is not quite as conservative as he claims to be.
Legislators purged the so-called “contingent” funding that Jindal stuffed into the budget. They did not want to depend on a future sale of prisons or a fall election.
“I was disappointed that he used contingencies. I think he expected for them to stay in the budget, especially since (that was) the way I was lobbied,” said state Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, said the Jindal administration resisted budget reform. Instead of embracing conservative ideas, he said, the administration increased tension by accusing legislators of being irresponsible when they made deeper cuts.
“The session for me was frustrating at some times, but also rewarding in the sense that we brought together groups that wanted to move forward on a better budget process,” Geymann said.
That process includes the Geymann rule, which limits the amount of one-time money — such as the proceeds of prison sales — that can be used to pay expenses that must be met year after year.
Jindal vowed to eliminate the rule by backing a resolution to reverse it.
The Jindal administration-backed resolution never got a committee hearing.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater told legislators repeatedly the state needed to use one-time money to get over the hump caused by the shortfall.
More than three years ago, on his first full day in office as governor, Jindal criticized the amount of one-time money his predecessor used in the budget for expenses that must be paid year after year.
Jindal muted his criticism when it came time for him to pay health-care expenses with dwindling dollars.
Suddenly, it was perfectly fine to sell a few prisons to ensure that the poor receive health care.
Drastic times called for drastic measures.
A number of legislators called the governor on his flop in positions, leaving him clinging to a conservative stance on a cigarette tax renewal that even conservatives did not buy.
Michelle Millhollon covers the Governor’s Office for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.