Louisiana lawmakers should be writing Bobby Jindal, not Grover Norquist

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”  Groucho Marx

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.”  Otto von Bismarck 

By Robert Mann

Are they cowardly or crafty? That’s the question I asked myself Monday morning when I saw the stunning news that a group of Louisiana House Republicans, led by Ways and Means Committee Chair Joe Robideaux, had sent a bizarre letter to Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).

That’s the radical, anti-tax organization that forces politicians to pledge they will never raise taxes, not even in times of emergency.

In this letter, these lawmakers begged Norquist to grant permission to vote against the SAVE Act, the phony $1,500 tax credit that Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Senate have approved to offset much of the tax increases passed by legislators and designed to save Louisiana higher education.

Without this preposterous, counterfeit “offset” credit, Jindal believes he cannot claim to have never raised taxes. So, Jindal’s aides admit, the governor sought Norquist’s permission to concoct this credit, which state Treasurer John Kennedy has aptly labeled “nonsense on a stick.”

As reported by NOLA.com

In his letter, Robideaux argues SAVE would create a dangerous precedent. The legislation would give future lawmakers a loophole for raising taxes, without being held accountable for doing so, he said.

“If enacted into law, 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,” wrote Robideaux in his letter. 

Robideaux asked that Norquist consider Louisiana’s record over the last five to seven years when evaluating Jindal’s “no tax” pledge record. The Legislature and the governor may raise taxes this year — to help close a $1.6 billion budget gap — but they have cut taxes more, when their record over the last few years is taken into account. 

“A five-year look on the tax cuts we have already passed, would more than suffice to offset this year’s activity,” wrote Robideaux. 

At this point, you may be asking yourself: How does Grover Norquist have time to serve as governor of Louisiana and run ATR?

See, that’s where you are confused. Norquist is not, in fact, the governor of Louisiana. Nor is he the chief justice of Louisiana Supreme Court.

Norquist is much more important than that.

Norquist is the Interpreter of The Pledge.

Here’s why Robideaux’s letter to Norquist is so significant. The state Senate has approved the SAVE Act, deciding to give Jindal whatever cover he needs in order to raise the tax revenue necessary to fund higher education.

The House, however, is not as compliant. A majority of its members are opposed, some even offended, by the farce that is the SAVE legislation.

Led by Robideaux, the Ways and Means Committee rejected the SAVE bill. As reported by The Advocate on Saturday,

Wednesday’s [committee] vote sent tremors through the State Capitol because it set the Legislature on an uncharted course only eight days before the legislative session ends. No governor has vetoed the entire budget since the 1974 Constitution took effect.

If Jindal vetoed the budget, legislators could override him with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. If they failed to muster that vote, one of the questions raised Wednesday was whether state government — and all the services it provides — would shut down until a budget finally is approved. The budget is supposed to take effect for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1.

In the end, some of these legislators might cave and give Jindal what he wants. Even some of the bill’s supporters in the Senate acknowledge that the Legislature will repeal this ridiculous credit once Jindal is gone in January. Their attitude seems to be, “Give the silly man his ‘offset’ so we can fund higher education and get out of town.”

That is not the attitude of House Democrats, led by Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite (also a candidate in this year’s governor’s race).

“I couldn’t care less whether ATR and Grover Norquist rescind approval of the SAVE Act fictional offset — just as it mattered not to me that Jindal touted their approval of the patently ridiculous gimmick in the first instance,” Edwards told me in an email on Monday morning. “SAVE is the worst fiscal legislation I have seen in eight years for a variety of reasons, and it is certainly unworthy of our people.”

I also reached out on Monday morning to the other candidates for governor, asking for their position on the SAVE bill.

“The SAVE bill is unnecessary and does nothing to solve our long-term structural budget problems,” GOP Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, also a candidate for governor, said in an email. “It is simply another gimmick, when what we need in Louisiana is a game changer.”

“It’s embarrassing that we have to ask permission in order to enact a budget in Louisiana,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said in a statement. “I am sick of Washington elites and Washington politics running our budget debate. And some want to keep doing it.”

Apparently, Robideaux and many Republicans in the House agree with Edwards, Angelle and Dardenne. For all I know, Robideaux may hold fast and force a dramatic showdown with the Senate over SAVE. If they do and they prevail, they could force another dramatic showdown with Jindal, who has vowed to veto the state budget if it contains what he and Norquist consider a tax increase.

The worst-case scenario is would be that the legislative session ends on Thursday with no budget at all. In other words, a House-Senate conference committee fails to reach an agreement over SAVE that both houses are willing to support.

While Robideaux’s letter is clearly one of the most pathetic pieces of writing I have seen, it’s clearly an effort to find a way that avoids a train wreck.

Let’s hope that Norquist smiles upon Robideaux’s request and gives the House and Senate permission to trash the SAVE bill. (He didn’t. Since this post first went up, Norquist responded, telling legislators they are not allowed to raise taxes without also passing some kind of offset.)

That would the second-best outcome.

I say “second best,” because the best outcome would be for Jindal to acknowledge the fraud that he and Norquist have perpetrated and forced upon the Senate.

Here’s a crazy idea: Instead of writing pathetic letters to Norquist, Robideaux and his Republican colleagues ought to write an angry letter to Jindal, demanding that he do his job.

They ought to say something like this:

Dear Governor Jindal:

The SAVE tax credit that you have tried to force upon us is an affront to what is left of our integrity and dignity. Many of us have bowed before you for seven and a half years. Some of us are newer to the Legislature. We have only been groveling for three and a half years. But even that is enough to persuade some of us quit our jobs, move to India and join Missionaries for Charity to try and redeem ourselves for having enabled your near-destruction of Louisiana and the damage you – with our help – have done to our state’s people. 

So, this letter is to inform you that if you do not drop your support of the SAVE legislation and sign the legitimate and responsible budget that we send you, I and my colleagues will devote the month of August to traveling across Iowa to argue against your candidacy for president. (Seriously, we have already called Enterprise and rented a 14-passenger van. We will drive from Sioux City to Iowa City, and all parts in between, to tell the story of your disastrous mismanagement of Louisiana fiscal affairs.)

We thought about asking Grover Norquist to give us permission to do this another way, but then we realized what an embarrassing admission of our fecklessness that would be. So, we have decided to act with courage and integrity (You should try it. To our utter amazement, it feels great.)

This letter is to give you an ultimatum: Do your duty – or we will do ours.

Sincerely,

Rep. Joel Robideaux and colleagues

Filed under: Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Politics, LSU, Politics Tagged: Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, Jindal, Louisiana budget, Louisiana politics

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