As the clocked ticked down toward the Legislature’s mandatory adjournment Thursday afternoon, state Rep. Chris Broadwater took to the mic and confessed that, no matter what happened during the session’s frantic final hours, he was going to go home embarrassed by it.
And really, who could blame him?
Broadwater was at the podium to push a measure he admitted to finding both pointless and utterly distasteful: the SAVE plan, which would impose a roughly $1,600 assessment on each student attending a state college, then turn around and immediately grant an equivalent tax credit. The plan neither produces nor rebates any actual revenue and, as far as anyone can tell, has a constituency of exactly one: Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose top priority for the session was to protect his treasured seal of approval from the Washington-based Americans for Tax Reform.
The governor had demanded lawmakers pass the on-paper swap so he’d be able to count the credit part of the equation as a tax cut. That, in turn, would enable him to sign an equivalent amount in tax increases — in the form of higher tobacco taxes and rollbacks to some corporate exemptions — and still maintain that the budget was revenue neutral.
Which is exactly what he did. Upon adjournment, Jindal issued a statement proclaiming himself “proud that we came together this session to pass a balanced budget that protects higher education and health care without a tax increase.”
Tell that to the folks who’ll soon be shelling out more.
As for Broadwater, he had nothing at all to say in the measure’s defense, except that failing to pass it would, under the circumstances, be worse.
Sadly, for all of us, he was right. As flat-out dishonest as the SAVE measure is, as much as it opens the door to similar shenanigans in the future, voting yes — as majorities in both the Senate and House did — was the better choice under the far-from-ideal circumstances.
Noting Jindal’s threat to veto new revenue measures if lawmakers didn’t pass SAVE, Broadwater proceeded to list the possible collateral damage to higher education. He said $282 million could be cut, or 36 to 40 percent of every single state school’s budget. He warned that Southeastern Louisiana University, in his district, would see 35 furlough days for all staffers, including tenured faculty.
He said he’d support a veto override, given the chance — a real possibility in the restive House but an unlikely prospect in the more cooperative Senate — but “this is a bird in the hand. I’m ready to take it.”
Still, plenty of his peers weren’t.
State Rep. John Bel Edwards, a Democratic candidate in this fall’s governor’s race, lashed out at the idea and urged House members to force Jindal’s hand. Most Democrats and a generous handful of conservative Republicans joined him in opposition.
“This scheme does not add a single red penny to higher education,” Edwards argued. On top of that, “this is the least anti-tax ploy I have ever seen in my life. The most liberal tax-and-spend person would never be able to come up with this, because they’re not imaginative enough”
His mortification was justified, although the urge to fight, by that point, misplaced.
It was surely tempting to rebuff Jindal, deny him bragging rights and force him to contend with a possible veto override just as he’s trying to get some traction in the presidential race.
But the move would have been more about politics than principle. And it would have allowed Jindal to create havoc at the very institutions they were trying to protect.
That’s not how you claim the high ground.
I’m sure plenty of other SAVE backers — even those who got some concession for it, whether higher K-12 funding, Jindal’s signature on a favored bill or a promise to support a capital outlay request in their districts — aren’t proud of taking this vote.
If it’s any consolation, Jindal has much more reason to be embarrassed. He’s the one who came up with this ridiculous scheme in the first place.