The top issues that will be carried over into the 2013 regular session.
To help craft his proposed (but only partially successful) retirement reforms, Gov. Bobby Jindal paid $400,000 to Buck Consultants of New Jersey. The contract doesn’t end until summer 2013, meaning Jindal may try again next year. While the governor wanted to implement changes that would impact current state workers, his approved plan only addresses future hires — so that could be his starting point in 2013.
Free tuition at private schools for students at failing public schools was another cornerstone reform for Jindal. Opponents feared there wasn’t enough accountability, and their fears proved well-founded when it was revealed that 315 vouchers went to a Ruston Bible school that has no classrooms, teachers or computers. Education unions are currently challenging the law in the courts.
Other education reforms, like tenure and school accountability
The unions are likewise moving forward with legal challenges on the approved tenure ban and the new teacher accountability system. Rather than allowing these changes to take hold and then assess them, the unions have decided to jump the proverbial gun and drag the state into court. Most of these reforms were approved with support from Republicans and Democrats, not to mention voters in public opinion polls. The end result will be a drain on the state’s finances and possibly another debate in 2013 — with, undoubtedly, similar outcomes.
It often takes a while to unravel the annual operating budget, but the issue of using one-time monies for recurring expenses is now a perennial dustup between the House and Senate. The House takes a hard line on the issue; the Senate is more flexible. “This is a discussion we’re going to be having for years to come,” said Senate Finance Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville.
Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater opposed cuts to contracts and positions this year, arguing the reductions could stand in the way of Jindal’s future privatization plans. As for what those might be, Rainwater was mum. Based on Jindal’s proposals this year, “privatization” will be the administration’s mantra for the rest of the governor’s term. In a somewhat related topic, you can also expect the administration to continue supporting legislation that removes employees from the civil service system.
Last fiscal year, Louisiana could have collected $10.8 billion in taxes. A wide range of exemptions kept collections to $6.5 billion. This was why some lawmakers were rankled by Jindal’s push to give the New Orleans Hornets a $36.5 million tax break. They resolved to study the issue and a task force created by Donahue to review tax preferences begins meeting in September.