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Story Archives: The train's still on track -- for now
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|The train's still on track -- for now|
When the proposal was first floated to grant members of the Legislature a pay raise, Gov. Bobby Jindal would have been wise to tell lawmakers to forget it.
Instead, the governor assured legislators he would not meddle in their affairs, virtually giving them the green light to proceed as they wished. Something tells us Jindal would like to revisit the moment, or moments, in which he signed off on the Legislature's effort to raise its pay.
That much is evident now in light of lawmakers passing a pay hike for themselves in the face of staunch opposition to the measure. The opposition was fueled by political web sites, some newspaper editorial boards, talk radio show hosts -- particularly Moon Griffon -- and the public in general.
In its original form, Senate Bill 672 by Sen. Ann Duplessis of New Orleans basically tripled the level of compensation for state lawmakers. It sailed out of the Senate amid little fanfare.
That's when observers of the political process awoke from a late spring nap, alerting the people that the Legislature was up to some of its old tricks, or politics as usual. At least that's how the pay-raise bill was framed in some corners.
Bowing to public pressure thanks to an outcry of opposition to the measure, the House of Representatives blinked, or thought twice about tripling its pay. Instead, the House, relying on the support of many first-term members, simply doubled it and sent the bill back to the Senate for concurrence.
As we know now, the Senate agreed to the House version of the Duplessis bill on a 20-18 vote, or two votes to spare.
While roundly criticizing the Legislature over the pay-hike bill has become the popular thing to do as of late, I do not subscribe to the notion that state lawmakers are part-time public officials who deserve part-time pay. Anyone who has been exposed to the inner-workings of the Legislature or has been exposed to the day-to-day activities lawmakers engage in knows what that statement means.
Instead, I am one of the few who have felt for a long time that members of the Legislature should make more than a salary of $16,800 per year plus diem and office expenses, which is what they earn now. The compensation should be considerably more, but who am I to determine what the level of compensation should entail?
Yet, the public's opposition to the legislative pay-raise bill is understandable. With gasoline selling for $4 per gallon in an economic environment in Louisiana that's far from robust, many people in many ways are angry, or frustrated. Thus, it goes without saying that lawmakers voting to raise their own salaries almost immediately was an easy target for the people to shoot, or holler about.
Had the Legislature approved a pay-raise bill effective January 2012, or when the Legislature that's elected in the 2011 elections takes office, only minor opposition to the legislation would have surfaced. That's for sure.
The real loser in this flap, though, is Jindal, who appeared weak in the eyes of the public when word surfaced that the Speaker of House of Representatives, Jim Tucker, basically threatened the governor's chief of staff, Timmy Teepell. According to a published report, Tucker said the "wheels would come off the train" if Jindal vetoed the pay-raise bill, meaning the reform-minded measures advocated by the Jindal administration would run into stiff opposition in the Legislature if the governor intervened in the matter. That's a threat any way you cut it.
While it was commendable of Jindal to say he would not veto the pay-raise bill because he felt the Legislature should govern itself, or to set its own pay, the governor is the governor. He is expected to lead instead of miraculously realizing the state constitution does, indeed, establish three branches of government -- executive, judicial and legislative.
Jindal could have led if he had drawn a line in the sand and told the Legislature to shove the pay-raise bill where the sun doesn't shine while inviting a full-scale fight over legislation the administration believes is in the best interest of the state.
Not only would have the people respected Jindal for doing that, they would have applauded him.
Now they have a reason to doubt him.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|