The House Ways and Means Committee, by 10-9 votes, voted against legislation being offered by Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal through Senator Jack Donahue-R, which would, if passed, create a dedicated stream of revenues for higher education and which could help the Governor Jindal claim that taxes have never been raised on his watch as Governor, and more particularly, during this year. Louisiana is engulfed in a $1.6B budget deficit, threatening to seriously cripple the higher education and healthcare delivery systems as well as hurting other necessary government services.
However, from news reports and comments from various witnesses and some legislators on the House Ways and Means Floor, in a committee vote, the legislation was merely a paper shell game designed simply to help Jindal make this “false” claim as he starts his expected presidential-run journey.
One of those voting to kill the legislation was Joel Robideaux, the powerful republican Chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, who along with two other republicans, broke rank, and joined democratic committee members in shelving the legislation through the smallest of voting margins.
Robideaux explained his reasons voting against the legislation—a bill that might be considered the most important instrument to flow through the legislative process in decades.
Jindal has stated that if the budget passed out of the legislature is not “revenue neutral”, he would veto the budget—which, according to many observers, would send the legislative and political process in a vicious spin of uncertainties. According to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, organization, creating an imaginary fee coupled with an imaginary tax credit, would actually enable the governor to use the imaginary tax credit and apply it to a significant part of the taxes raised during the legislative session to balance the budget for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1, 2015.
On the committee floor and in today’s interview, Robideaux, a certified public accountant from Lafayette, questioned the wisdom and logic of the legislation but admits that as the state ramps up to a possible budget veto (and then perhaps an override session), there are a number of unanswered questions and legal issues that remain unanswered. The political debates and associated dramas of healthcare institutions being shuttered and universities being traumatized along the state being socked with sinking credit ratings, could result in the longest and hottest summer in Louisiana political history—especially as the governor primes his run for the White House.
Here is the interview transcript and below is a video which includes the entire interview with Rep. Robideaux.
Hold onto your seats, folks, because I think you will discover, the state could shortly be the focus of the nation especially given the likelihood that Jindal will be a presidential candidate.
SABLUDOWSKY: What was yesterday about if you could just describe to our readers, I mean what happened?
ROBIDEAUX: I think it was no different really than any other committee hearing with a controversial bill, we took the testimony, we listened, we ask questions and at the end of the day we took a vote on whether or not we thought the bill had merit to go to the full body for debate, and it was a very close vote, but at the end of the day, there was 10 votes that thought it was a bad bill and nine that thought it was okay. That's part of the process.
SABLUDOWSKY: yes. that's for the process. Now I can describe the bill myself, but if your mind why don't you describe the bill, in terms of the original bill that was available, present yesterday
ROBIDEAUX: the bill we voted on was Senate Bill 284, which is Sen Donahue's bill, which was described as the Save Credit, and I think, I think it pretty common knowledge that what it did was allow for the governor to live up to the Americans for Tax Reform pledge, so they crafted a very clever bill that basically allows us to raise as much taxes as we want and still say we did not raise taxes because of this bill. It gave, or it provided for, the bill itself, an assessment that nobody paid because of a credit that nobody gets--and really all it did was transfer of money into a fund and with all those gyrations, the Americans For Tax Reform somehow said, well this is good, this is a credit, and offsets any taxes that you raise. And the question was asked--can we do same thing with royalty taxes severance and all 8 billion in taxes--and if that's the case--this isn't a conservative piece of legislation it's the most liberal piece of legislation that we have ever been asked to vote on. I just think that there were some of us who had serious problems with the fallacy inherent in the bill. And it just struck a bill that was being done for all the wrong reasons and was unnecessary. If we want to fund Higher Ed and healthcare then let's just trim back the incentives like the House did, it's very transparent, it's very clear. The public knows what we did. Some like it, some don't, but we chose to make those cuts to those tax incentive programs and invest that money into higher education and healthcare and present it as openly to the public as possible.
ROBIDEAUX: And the public can judge whether they like what we did or not. But to do all, to go through all these gyrations and that, just to try to trick people into thinking that we didn't do what we did--just didn't seem to be the right way to go
SABLUDOWSKY: right, I think you were asking those questions yesterday or maybe it was Representative Johnson
SABLUDOWSKY: about whether or not we can do the same thing with the Affordable Care Act, take the money and just give a tax credit-- basically do that for anything, raise taxes to the cows come home and just call it a tax credit, it that's pretty much?
ROBIDEAUX: Yep. I'm having a very difficult time understanding how the Americans For Tax Reform can say that this fit with whatever the requirements are because it does seem to be the exact opposite of a no tax pledge, it seems to allow for as many taxes as you want--pledge, as long as you do this piece of legislation--it just seems to be in contradiction of the (inaudible)
SABLUDOWSKY: sure, sure, so where does it go from here? Ultimately goes to the full house. It was, there were two votes at the end, the second was to involuntarily defer the bill, that does not mean that it cannot be brought back up to the house floor, and my correct? Or does it mean is there's additional limitations that you had to jump over or what?
ROBIDEAUX: Yeah, no bill is really dead until sine die. There's procedural moves that's allowed for, so there's always the possibility of the bill coming back in some form, in some way. So this to me was a normal step in a process to give the bill hearing, you debate it and people are going to be looking at whatever procedural moves to try to resurrect it and so a lot of folks were staying up late last night trying to figure it out
SABLUDOWSKY: but the fact that every vote was 10 to 9, I believe, and so that means that, and I think that, it was pretty much, except for three of you all, three republicans who voted along with the Democrats, so it seems to me with 10 to 9 votes, it seems to me that still force behind it
ROBIDEAUX: absolutely, that's exactly right. 10 to 9 votes, it's a close vote. It's a very divisive issue. People had their reasons for voting for it for sure.. Everything from they want us to get it done in this process and don't want us to come back for a veto session, I guess there's some really believe (inaudible) or not. And so I'm sure the body was equally divided as the committee was.
SABLUDOWSKY: Now perhaps you can take us through this, the other day I wrote a column, basically saying--hey what happens if we--if the governor vetoes the budget, where does it take us? Have you thought that through? Obviously, I suspect that if the governor vetoed the budget, there might be at least, an attempt to override. I think that's pretty obvious that they could be a stronger attempt to do so, this year, then prior years, on any issue.
ROBIDEAUX: That's correct
SABLUDOWSKY: So the other day, in a column, I was trying to figure out, so what happens if the governor vetoes the legislation, then there is an override session, can any other issue be brought up? For example, would you just have to vote upward down for an override? Or can you then just negotiate the budget once again?
ROBIDEAUX: If he vetoes, and we come into a veto override session, that any bill he has vetoed, is on the table to be over- ridden whether it be the budget or some other bill that we agree with. In that session, you're limited in that veto override session, you're limited to overriding his veto. So you can say, "no, the budget that the house and the Senate agreed to, that we sent to your desk, we're voting on whether or not were going to override that veto. And he might also veto the revenue bill and whatnot. That's one. That's the first step in the process. If for some reason, that does not happen, we would either have to call ourselves into a special session or have a governor call us in to a special session to deal with crafting a new budget which basically means starting a new session and starting over. Nothing we did in this session, as it relates to the budget,would be carried forward. But as relates to appropriating the budget it would take a three-quarter vote instead of a two thirds majority vote.
SABLUDOWSKY: Oh really?
ROBIDEAUX: Yep, because in the last year, you need to double check me on this, but in the last year, it's my understanding, the last year of a governor's term, if there is a special session on the budget, it'is a three quarters vote to appropriate money.
SABLUDOWSKY: My Lord.
ROBIDEAUX: Which means that nobody want to go to a special session. So we’re either going to work it out here and get it done by Thursday or we're going to going into an override and just override the governor. I mean, there's very little appetite or confidence that we would be able to come to some agreement where 75% of the body would agree on cuts to Higher Ed, cuts to health care, cuts the tax incentives or whatever combination there is. It would be very difficult. Remember, we haven't received those numbers on anything yet. So why would it be any different then?
SABLUDOWSKY: Right now I think Tyler Bridges wrote in his article yesterday, that some are arguing that the government would shutdown. Now he did not give any time period as to when that would take place. I mean obviously there's enough money in the budget up (treasury) to July 1. And, then after that, if its not resolved but that would be the time that all heck breaks loose.
ROBIDEAUX: Yes just like in a normal--we end the session on June 11 at sine die, and the governor vetoed the budget that would be the question? What happens come July 1? Is there and, I don't know, is there any emergency provisions in place to utilize whatever revenues are available on some limited basis to keep things operational, because we don't come into the veto override and that's all in statute, 40 days after, after the end of session. So that would be, what--July 21. So, I suspect that there is some mechanism in place that in the event of a veto the time between when the session ends, not the session, when the year ends on June 30 and we are compelled to go into a veto override session--that there is some mechanism in place for government services.
SABLUDOWSKY: Ah, another executive order.
ROBIDEAUX: It could very well be that
SABLUDOWSKY: oh my God
ROBIDEAUX: I really don't know the answer
SABLUDOWSKY: sure. absolutely I can see legal challenges, like you can have executive orders they like with Hurricane Katrina, but man-made, that would be--boy, what a mess
SABLUDOWSKY: what a mess
SABLUDOWSKY: And, right at the time, June 24, is the day that the governor is supposed to announce his presidential run or that is not to run for president. He could announce that and he would do that before the veto override session would take place
SABLUDOWSKY: Boy oh boy, well the summer I think I'll stay in the state of Louisiana
ROBIDEAUX: well were still working hard to try to come to some resolution by June 11, but we'll see
SABLUDOWSKY: well, listen, thank you very much, I know it's very difficult decision, obviously, and I personally appreciate the effort that you are making, and that the entire legislature is making, during these very very difficult times. It's not fun. It's not easy. And you all are really acting with respect to one another and I really appreciate that. Really.
ROBIDEAUX: I appreciate the kind words, thank you
SABLUDOWSKY: Take care, good bye.
ROBIDEAUX: All right Steve