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|Plate full awaits lawmakers|
Two things are abundantly clear heading into the regular legislative session that begins Monday in Baton Rouge.
One, state lawmakers – in general – seem to be fairly open-minded to Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposals to reform K-12 public education in Louisiana.
Two, legislators – some of them at least – are scared to death of the governor's plans to reshape the state's retirement system (s).
The latter was expected since fiddling around with someone else's money usually generates opposition among the people who would be impacted by the fiddling. Think about it and let's remind ourselves that one of the focal points of Jindal's plans for retirement reform would require state employees who currently are younger than 55 to work until they're in their late '60s. That's a tough pill to swallow for a 50 to 54-year-old state employee who has put in 20-plus years of service to the state and had plans to hang it up in a year or two. Now he or she must plug away for another decade and then some to receive full retirement benefits, assuming the Legislature signs off on that aspect of the Jindal retirement reform package.
But as my Daddy often said, "Son, who said life was fair?"
We might hear something along that line from the Jindal administration as the regular session unfolds, or as more details about the governor's plans for retirement reform receive a full vetting in the bowels of the capitol. At the very least, tempers will flair as retirement reform is hashed out, or serves as the hot topic of discussion. Let's hope cooler heads prevail. They must if we're to engage in an open and honest discussion about a financial obligation the state cannot afford to maintain indefinitely.
Lawmakers may be reluctant to get too far out on a limb with Jindal on the retirement reform front because they most likely vividly recall the last time they stuck their necks out over a controversial matter – pay raises for members of the Legislature. Remember that fiasco?
Who's to say Jindal won't back off a sticky point or two if that's all he needs to pass legislation that will allow him to take credit for putting the retirement systems on sound financial footing for years to come. Whether it would be true or not won't matter. Why? Because Jindal will have moved on to bigger and better things by the time we determine whether the changes, or reforms, the Legislature approved in 2012 yielded dividends down the road.
That lawmakers seem willing to go along with Jindal on implementing reforms in public education tells us that defenders of the status quo don't wield as much influence with the Legislature as they once did. That's a good thing, for the status quo in public education has failed the state and the people (taxpayers) who are footing the bill.
While most level-headed observers of government and politics realize public education in Louisiana has more problems than we can shake a stick at, it's important that we don't forget there are thousands of good teachers among us who are just as disgusted with it as the people who want to reform it. That would help explain why lawmakers haven't received much blowback over Jindal's proposal to end teacher tenure as we know it.
Though it won't be a walk in a park on a Sunday afternoon, the Legislature will cooperate with Jindal in approving measures to improve public education simply because the governor has public opinion on his side. Retirement reform is an entirely different matter.
Yet, what about the $25.5-billion proposed budget for the new fiscal year?
Lawmakers must deal with that hot potato, too, beginning Monday. It won't be any fun either because the Legislature won't have much money throw around to placate the populace.
Add it all up – slim budget, education reform, retirement reform – and the populace may be in a foul mood by the time the regular session adjourns sine die June 4.