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|Jindal has capital to spend|
The Legislature will convene the 2011 regular session Monday.
This year's regular session is a fiscal-only session. That means lawmakers must focus their attention on money matters, though each legislator is allowed to introduce five pieces of legislation for the Legislature to consider that don't necessarily deal with money.
The hot topic in this year's session will be the budget, of course. If the fiscal experts are correct, the Legislature must erase a $1.6-billion projected deficit heading into the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Remember, it's unlawful in Louisiana for the Legislature to approve a budget that's not balanced. It's also a no-no for the governor to present a proposed budget to the Legislature that's not balanced.
About a month ago when Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal unveiled his proposed $24-billion spending plan for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, it featured no increase in taxes while it weighed heavily on cuts in spending. About $1 billion worth.
Jindal's proposed budget for the new fiscal year also banked on the Legislature utilizing some $475 million in one-time monies to make ends meet. Roughly $50 million-$75 million of those one-time monies would pay for one-time expenses. The remaining $400 million-$425 million in one-time revenues would be used for recurring appropriations.
It's not sound fiscal policy to use one-time revenues to pay for ongoing expenses, but the Legislature has been doing it for years. Just last year during the regular session, lawmakers relied upon $1.6 billion in one-time monies to balance the budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, or the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
If Jindal had his way, the state wouldn't use any one-time revenues to balance a budget in any fiscal year. Jindal's intentions are admirable, but he obviously realizes it will take time for the state to work its way into a position in which an administration and the Legislature aren't forced to turn to one-time revenues to pay for services the people expect the state to provide.
Jindal made that point clear last week en route from the Monroe airport to a veterans event in West Monroe where he presented medals to individuals who have served the country in the armed forces. Mingling with veterans is one of Jindal's strong suits. He's comfortable with them, and they seem comfortable with him as well.
Jindal also is at ease to some degree in a rather private setting. He loosens up, but he exhibits a clear understanding of the issues the state faces and his grasp of politics in general discloses that he knows exactly what he desires to accomplish in Louisiana, though he remains coy about his plans beyond the governor's office. Jindal may be a bit coy about his ambitions, but he would make a terrible poker player.
Under normal circumstances in politics, a governor would play it safe in an election year. Yet, the political landscape is anything but normal in Louisiana in this election year of 2011.
Jindal's approval rating remains in the 60-plus percentile range, and his re-election campaign is flush with cash. More than $10 million at last count.
Jindal also has no opponent to speak of some six months prior to election day thanks to a state Democrat Party that's in disarray and shows no signs of life. That's not expected to change anytime soon either.
To surmise, Jindal is in a catbird seat, and he has political capital to spend.
The $64,000 question of the day is whether Jindal is willing to spend any of that political capital to move the state in the direction that he envisions for Louisiana.