MELINDA DESLATTE, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In his final speech to start a Louisiana legislative session, Gov. Bobby Jindal described his budget-balancing plan Monday as a way to scale back "corporate welfare" by eliminating certain types of tax breaks.
The Republican governor used his speech to a joint session of the House and Senate to defend his steadfast refusal to raise taxes while sidestepping criticism that his financial decisions helped to cause a $1.6 billion budget shortfall.
Jindal is term-limited and appears to be readying for a presidential campaign. His relationships with lawmakers have become increasingly frayed as he nears the end of his second term. Approval ratings at home have plummeted as he travels and the state struggles with repeated financial troubles.
His speech recapped legislative victories from previous years, while hitting points of national interest: the state's recovery from Hurricane Katrina, his opposition to the Common Core education standards and his push for "religious liberty."
As he courts evangelical Christians for his likely presidential campaign, Jindal is supporting a religious objections proposal similar to those that have sparked outcry in Indiana and Arkansas, a debate that already has proved divisive in Louisiana even before the session's opening day.
But foremost on lawmakers' minds for the 60-day session are the state's finances.
"We have laid out a budget proposal that seeks to protect higher education, health care and other important government functions by going after wasteful state spending in our tax structure," Jindal told lawmakers.
To help close the shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1, the governor wants to lessen more than $500 million in spending on refundable tax credits in which the state writes a check above a business' tax liability.
Lawmakers haven't embraced the proposal and are working on their own ideas to avoid steep cuts to colleges and health care services. Ideas range from shrinking tax breaks for specific industries and closing loopholes that allow companies to skirt taxes to a yearlong suspension of many of the tax breaks on the books.
Jindal says he won't support anything he considers a net increase in taxes, limiting the options for lawmakers trying to raise money to balance next year's budget. To get around his self-imposed restrictions, the governor describes caps on refundable tax credits as reductions in state spending, a position supported by national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
"Our businesses are a great asset. But we cannot stand idly by while companies pay zero in state taxes and then continue getting free taxpayer money from the government on top of it," the governor said.
Away from the budget discussion, Jindal has a light legislative agenda. His centerpiece proposal seeks to yank the Common Core education standards from Louisiana's public school classrooms. The issue has divided lawmakers and the education community.
Efforts to derail the standards — benchmarks of what students should learn at each grade level in English and math — failed last year. Attempts to scrap Common Core through legal challenges haven't been successful.
Louisiana's education superintendent and a majority of its state education board members support Common Core, which has been adopted by more than 40 states. Opponents say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.
Another controversial issue is the religious objections proposal from newly elected Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City.
Johnson's bill would prohibit the state from denying licenses, certifications, employment, contracts, benefits or tax deductions because of actions a person takes "in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction" about marriage. Jindal said he intends "to fight for passage of this legislation."
Johnson describes the measure as a protection for opponents of same-sex marriage from state penalties. But gay rights groups and some legal experts counter that the proposal would allow for discrimination against same-sex couples.
The issue puts Jindal at odds with one of his closest legislative allies, Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, who said he opposes the measure in its current form, calling it discrimination.
"I would rather see it go away, save that discussion for another day. We've got too much on our plate," Alario said.
Jindal disagrees and said: "We do not support discrimination, and we do support religious liberty, and we believe that we can uphold both of those values simultaneously."
Online: Louisiana Legislature: www.legis.la.gov
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted on Mon, April 13, 2015
by The Lafourche Gazette