With Three Weeks Left, State Legislators Still Have Much To Do
As of Friday, May 11, the state Legislative session has three weeks until it must adjourn.
The budget has yet to be balanced even though the house passed an amendment Friday to end the dispute over the use of one-time money, and Governor Bobby Jindal's pension reforms remain in limbo.
Robert Mann is the Director of the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at the Manship School at LSU.
WRKF's Ashley Westerman sat down with him earlier this week and asked what the biggest priority for the legislature is at this point.
MANN: The immediate task in this current fiscal year, that we're just wrapping up, is how do you cut $200 million out of a fiscal year that has about six weeks left without decimating essential state services. And that's going to be a difficult and a very wrenching decision. Do they enact cuts that destroy lives? Or do they tap into the budget stabilization fund or do they kick the can down the road and roll it into next, which is probably the most likely outcome but which really exacerbates the problem next year.
WESTERMAN: Let's switch gears here but still stay on the topic of the budget - the pension reforms. Do you think that those are going to get squared away before the end of the legislative session?
MANN: Well, it's not clear. It looks like the governor may have expended a lot of his political capital on passing his education reforms very early in the session. Those were difficult votes for some legislators and they were votes in which they had to go against public employees, teachers. The teachers, by in large, have been excluded from this pension reform but there are still public employees who are angry who are speaking out in a very forceful way and there's a lot of them and they all vote. And I think for some legislators this is just one too many for a legislative session involving public employees.
WESTERMAN: And I just thought of this, how much are the pension reforms tied to the budget and what happens if those pension reforms can't get figured out?
MANN: Originally, this bill was crafted to increase the taxes on these state employees who were affect by this reform by three percentage points out of their paycheck. That money was going into the general fund not into shoring up the pension system, which was a huge problem for a lot of people. You say there's this huge problem and yet the money you're extracting from state employees isn't exactly going to the problem, it's going to the general fund. The problem for Jindal is that when he had to make the concession and put that money into the pension system it knocked about a $150 million hole in his general fund budget for this year. So it just added to the fiscal problems that the state is experiencing and that means deeper cuts on healthcare and deeper cuts on higher education in this coming fiscal year.
WESTERMAN: Would you say, could you even make a call right now if whether or not this legislative session was successful for him or not?
MANN: I think it will probably be seen as a successful session for him if you judge on the basis of, "Did the governor generally get what was most important to him?" And I think by any measure what was most important, by far, was this education reform. Now if you judge it on by the measure of what's important to the public at large, what's important to the legislature, it may be mixed. If this budget crashes and burns, if there's calamity with state services because of this, or if this pension reform bill results in a drastic outflow of state employees or its ruled unconstitutional and legislators have wasted a good part of their time and effort on something that never came to fruition because it was unconstitutional. Then I think it would be fair to judge the results of the session as more mixed for Jindal than a qualified success.
WESTERMAN: Thank you so much for coming in today.
MANN: My pleasure.