Friday is shaping up as an epic showdown in the Louisiana Legislature that will be a defining moment for Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and numerous lawmakers. What started out as a ridiculous bill destined to gain little traction — New Orleans Democratic Sen. Ann Duplessis’ proposed legislation giving elected officials a 200 percent pay raise — passed the Senate on Tuesday and goes to the House for debate on Friday.
Just on the face of it, the bill defies belief. A modest pay raise for legislators is one thing, but a jump in base salary from $16,800 annually to $50,700 annually flies in the face of any form of common sense. And what’s truly galling is the timing. Gas prices are now $4 a gallon and rising, food prices are skyrocketing and the cost of health insurance continues to be a heavy burden for most Louisiana families. Yet a large contingent of politicos thinks this is a perfect time to give themselves a massive pay raise. Locally, that includes Republican Sen. Mike Michot and Democratic Sen. Eric LaFleur, who both voted in favor of the raise. (Democratic Sen. Don Cravins voted against it.)
As if that’s not enough to make your blood boil, the political wrangling that’s driving the bill is truly nauseating. If you haven’t been keeping score, Republican Speaker of the House Jim Tucker is now spearheading the charge for the pay raises, and the unspoken message is that if Gov. Jindal vetoes the legislative pay raise, then the rest of the legislation that Jindal’s pushing — including his controversial vouchers bill — will die on the vine in the Legislature.
And Jindal, the wunderkind who pledged to restore fiscal conservatism to Louisiana, seems just fine playing ball with Tucker. Jindal issued a statement through his press secretary that he “strongly disagrees with the pay increase,” but Jindal’s spokesperson also told The Associated Press that Jindal — get ready for this — _won’t veto the bill if it reaches his des_k.
Make no mistake about it: there’s going to be serious blowback over this, no matter what happens. If Jindal doesn’t veto it, he looks like a spineless figurehead who’s content to sit by idly on the sidelines and give up one of his core campaign platforms. If he does veto it, he’ll be facing a disgruntled Legislature that will be much more inclined to derail Jindal initiatives.
Right now, they all look foolish. The Legislature’s giving Jindal a bit of payback for the heavy-handed tactics his administration’s used with lawmakers since taking office, but they couldn’t have picked a dumber issue to make their point. If these two sides can’t figure out a better way to work with each other, it’s going to be a loooong, unproductive slog through the rest of Jindal’s tenure.