Let us pause for a moment to mourn the SAVE Act.
OK, the grandly named Student Assessment for a Valuable Education Act isn’t quite dead yet, but all signs point to an imminent demise less than a year after the Louisiana Legislature gave it life.
And yes, “mourn” probably isn’t the right word. Not one tear is likely to be shed on its behalf.
But before that very same Louisiana Legislature erases the SAVE Act from to the books, it’s worth taking a few minutes to ponder how and why it came to be in the first place, if only because nobody involved wants to wind up here again.
As a matter of policy, the law accomplished absolutely nothing. All it did was to create a phantom higher education fee that no students would pay and balance it with a tax credit that nobody would receive. It was a shell game that neither raised nor cost a dime but instead moved $350 million in state funds from one category to another. Even some of its loudest advocates in the Legislature called it a gimmick, confessed their embarrassment and pleaded for their colleagues to cast yes votes.
As a matter of politics, though, it did exactly what it was designed to do, and that was allow former Gov. Bobby Jindal to take a weak stab at addressing a daunting budget shortfall without acknowledging the obvious, that he had raised taxes. Signing SAVE allowed Jindal to claim a fake offset to those increases, but because Grover Norquist and his absolutist anti-tax group said it was real, Jindal could still go out and tell presidential primary voters that he had Norquist’s seal of approval.
You could say it did no harm, other than to lawmakers’ delicate egos. But as the Legislature grapples with a far more desperate budget picture, it’s hard to argue that this is true. At a time when officials could have begun the hard work of restructuring and stabilizing Louisiana’s budget, SAVE and Jindal’s other campaign-inspired priorities — including but not limited to his non-starter of a bill to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples — diverted time, energy and attention from more serious matters.
As pointless as SAVE was, so was the effort to derail it. Then-state Rep. and now Gov. John Bel Edwards argued strongly against SAVE’s passage, but the ugly truth was that lawmakers had to come up with something that the governor would sign.
So allow Edwards to say “I told you so” when he eventually signs the repeal. And allow some of the people behind its passage to do the same.
They already started last week, when the state House voted unanimously to send SAVE to an early death. State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, who pushed for the original bill and is now sponsoring its repeal, admitted on the floor that it “had no practical effect in law.” He and co-sponsor Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston, went so far as to put their initials together and label it a “B.S.” bill, and noted that it officially goes by “House Bill No. 2.”
About the only person who might have defended the measure, Jindal, was actually back on the campaign trail this week, on behalf of the candidate he endorsed after his own presidential race faltered despite his rubber stamp from Norquist. Jindal’s presence as a Marco Rubio supporter drew little notice, at least compared to Rubio’s endorsement from still up-and-coming South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another Indian-American Southern governor who delivered a nationally televised response to President Barack Obama. That’s gotta sting.
Back home in Baton Rouge, though, otherwise warring lawmakers united to bid good riddance not only to the convoluted bill he demanded they pass but, implicitly, to Jindal’s whole approach to governing the state.
That may not sting, given Jindal’s horribly misplaced priorities. If he felt any sense of responsibility for the mess he left behind, it would.
Stephanie Grace can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @stephgracenola.