Bobby Jindal’s SAVE: A Most Convoluted BJ

From The PublisherWe knew the final regular legislative session during Gov. Bobby Jindal’s tenure was going to be interesting. And by “interesting,” I mean “ugly.”

With a looming $1.6 billion budget shortfall and a governor vowing to veto anything construed as a tax increase in order to appease the Rasputin of the GOP, this session was destined to be more entertaining than 99% of the shows on your DVR right now.

And it certainly delivered, especially during the closing hours of the last day when it culminated with a crescendo of shenanigans and stupidity that would put a Real Housewives reunion show to shame. To say it resembled a sausage factory would be an insult to sausage factories.

I couldn’t break away from the live stream of the two chambers for fear I might miss the train wreck so many political geeks like me knew was just around the corner. The best chance for it all to go off the rails finally came in the final hours before the Legislature was constitutionally mandated to adjourn sine die at 6 p.m.

That was when, after giving term-limited legislators like Rep. Jeff Arnold (aka the “Dean” of the House, aka the “Mayor of Algiers”) up to 30 minutes to say goodbye to his colleagues earlier that afternoon, the House of Representatives once again took up the highly controversial, highly convoluted, and highly contrived Student Assessment for a Valuable Education (SAVE) measure.

It’s a fee that students never pay to get a credit they never see, just so a governor no one likes can keep a promise to a guy no one elected, all because that governor wants to run for an office he’s got no shot at winning.

SAVE has been called (among other things) a “fee,” a “tax credit,” “nonsense,” “pure fiction,” a “gimmick,” a “complete farce,” an “embarrassment to the legislative process,” a “shell game,” and a “dangerous precedent.” One senator proposed an amendment to rename it the “DUMB” fund.

Originally proposed as Senate Bill 284 by Sen. Jack Donahue, SAVE creates a fee of about $1,600 per student at all state-funded colleges and universities, which would raise about $350 million total. But only on paper.

While the fee would show up on their fee bills, students wouldn’t actually be assessed it. However, the non-assessed fee would still be offset by an equal tax credit, which would be transferred to the Board of Regents. That tax credit would generate $350 million in tax offsets to balance out against $350 million in other revenue-raising measures passed this session, thus allowing Gov. Jindal to keep his 2003 pledge to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, in which he vowed to maintain “revenue neutrality,” thus avoiding the specter of Jindal vetoing the budget.

Did you follow that? Me neither.

To paraphrase gubernatorial candidate Rep. John Bel Edwards, it’s a fee that students never pay to get a credit they never see, just so a governor no one likes can keep a promise to a guy no one elected, all because that governor wants to run for an office he’s got no shot at winning.

It’s a scheme worthy of a Nigerian prince that satisfies Norquist’s dogmatic definition of “revenue neutrality.”

Donahue’s SB284 was killed by the House Ways and Means Committee in a 10-9 vote, yet its language was revived and attached to several other bills. All told, SAVE died and was resurrected about a half-dozen times, with its last gasp coming in the second-to-last hour of the last day of the last legislative session of arguably the worst governor in the history of Louisiana. The zombie measure turned sine die into sine undead.

SAVE had been roundly panned by both Democrats and members of Jindal’s own party. The Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee warned Norquist in a letter that Jindal’s accounting “innovation” could actually lead to unmitigated tax increases by future state leaders who could claim revenue neutrality with similar phony offsets.

SAVE’s reluctant supporters, sounding like a horny drunk guy who screwed a fat, ugly chick, admitted it was distasteful and embarrassing but also insisted it was something that needed to be done.

“If enacted into law,” Rep. Joel Robideaux wrote, “this bill would successfully and irreparably establish the precedent that future legislatures and governors can raise taxes on a nearly unlimited basis, and then claim revenue neutrality solely based on the creation of a purely fictional, procedural, phantom, paper tax credit.”

It’s sort of like when a teenage girl promises her dad that she’ll remain a virgin until she gets married, and until then, she only does oral and anal. It’s not what Daddy had in mind, but by strict definition, she’s living up to her vow. And while Jindal is certainly doing a bang-up job fellating Norquist, it’s the state and its residents — not Jindal — who are taking it up the rear.

Even SAVE’s reluctant supporters, sounding like a horny drunk guy who screwed a fat, ugly chick, admitted it was distasteful and embarrassing but also insisted it was something that needed to be done.

“I can’t feel good about this other than the future of higher education in Louisiana hangs in the balance with this instrument,” Republican Chris Broadwater said in support of SAVE.

Legislators like Broadwater and Donahue voiced their support for SAVE in much the same way I imagine Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents expressed their pride in him: “Sure, he’s awful and shameful, but he’s our baby, and we still support and love him.”

The final incarnation, Senate Bill 93, which included SAVE, had been approved by the Senate earlier on the final day; but when it was brought up in the House — for what passes as debate with less than two hours remaining and still a bunch of bills left to address — Democrats attempted to stall proceedings in hopes of killing it for the umpteenth time. Most notably, Baton Rouge Rep. Ted James attempted to filibuster by reading his horoscope.

"We gonna filibuster all night, girl."
“We gonna filibuster all night, girl.”

“I am the Gemini product of two Gemini parents,” James said before being shut down per House rules by Speaker Chuck Kleckley.

Maybe he’d have gotten more leeway from the House leadership if he’d have sung his horoscope-themed filibuster to the tune of The Floaters’ “Float On”:

Gemini. And my name is Teddy.
Now, I like a bill that’s simple.
A bill that’s easy to read.

And if you feel the same way, baby, come with me.
Mmmmmm, take my hand.
Come with me, baby, to love land.
Let me show you how sweet it can be,
Passing bills with me.
I want you to
Vote. Vote on.
Vote on, vote on.

After several failed votes to close debate and force a vote on the issue, a quick-speaking Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger called a vote to close debate once again and got the votes needed by closing the voting machine only a few seconds after opening it. It’s the kind of stuff they don’t teach you in civics class.

The Louisiana Legislature has never actually called itself back to Baton Rouge with the express purpose of overriding a governor’s veto, and goddammit, I wanted to see it happen!

So the fate of SAVE — and the entire budget — was hanging in the balance on the pending House vote with less than 100 minutes left before adjournment. Would legislators hold their noses and pass it, or reject it and bank on overriding Jindal’s promised veto?

I’ll be honest, I wanted to see it fail just so I could see a special veto override session. Only twice has the Legislature ever overturned a governor’s veto, and both times, it happened during a regular session. The Louisiana Legislature has never actually called itself back to Baton Rouge with the express purpose of overriding a governor’s veto, and goddammit, I wanted to see it happen!

It’s like when I was a kid and a hurricane was in the Gulf, and I’d secretly wish it would become a Category 5 hurricane and its eye would pass over us. Sure, it’d be a dangerous proposition, but at least I could see firsthand what one looked like. Lord knows, I was sick of hearing my folks talk about going through the eye of Hurricane Betsy.

Plus, I had predicted on the radio over a month earlier that we’d see a veto override this year. I also wanted to look like a political analytical genius. The fact that it would be Jindal being politically emasculated during his presidential campaign would be lagniappe.

Alas, it passed on a vote of 59-43. I guess I’ll have to wait for an even more unpopular governor willing to sacrifice the state’s future in order to blow a guy who literally said he’d prefer everyone’s grandmother be bitten to death by fire ants rather than raise the marginal tax rate on the top 2% of Americans.

Earlier that same day, we learned both Christopher Lee and Dusty Rhodes had passed away. Yet this legislative ode to Rube Goldberg was not only raised from the dead yet again but actually got passed simply because it met Norquist’s definition of revenue neutrality?

Why even bother having a veto override mechanism in the state constitution if our legislators don’t have the balls to use it on a lame duck governor with a double-digit popularity deficit to President Barack Obama in deep-red Louisiana? What are they afraid he’s going to do? Take away their committee appointments? He’s gone! Mentally, physically, and constitutionally.

Why be complicit with Jindal in fellating Grover Norquist by legitimizing a device that could possibly annihilate our fiscal future?

Are they afraid of what voters will think come this fall’s election season? Less than a third of state residents have a favorable opinion of Jindal. You’d think voting to override his veto would be a bragging point.

Why be complicit with Jindal in fellating Grover Norquist by legitimizing a device that could possibly annihilate our fiscal future? Sure, it was necessary to invent it to win this battle, but how do you know it won’t be used recklessly in the future?

If it were possible for a state lawmaker to have a conscience and ponder the possible ramifications of the precedent set by SAVE, he or she might feel like Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” when he quoted the Bhagavad Gita after witnessing the world’s first atomic detonation:

Now I am become Deficit, the destroyer of budgets.

Speaking on behalf of SAVE, Sen. Danny Martiny said, “If he (Jindal) tells me to stand on my head and he’ll sign the budget — well, I probably can’t, but I’ll try.”

With attitudes like that, it’s no wonder the higher-ups of higher ed like LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander were begging lawmakers to approve SAVE. They knew legislators didn’t have the guts to call a veto override session and exercise their constitutional authority. Without SAVE, much-needed newly passed appropriations would be gutted by Jindal’s veto pen, which would mean higher ed (and health care, the other portion of the budget not protected by the constitution) would suffer the deep, draconian cuts many predicted before the session began.

Super-Grover-2.0
Super Grover (visual approximation)

Martiny was on to something, though. This whole situation is sort of like a Mayan chief insisting all the tribe members stand on their heads and rub their tummies while singing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Why? To please an unforgiving deity, the mighty Super Grover, in the hopes of gaining his favor so that the chief could succeed in a foolhardy conquest for more power.

And if the tribespeople don’t stand on their heads and rub their tummies while singing “Bohemian Rhapsody”? Well, the chief would have no choice but to throw the tribe’s teachers and sick people into the volcano in order to appease Super Grover and keep his knob polished.RedShtick-Top-ColumnStop

About Jeremy White

Jeremy White is an engineer by education, but a smartass by birth. He managed to overcome the obstacles presented by his technical background, and has brilliantly devised a way to make a living making fun of people.

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