Many legislative issues will sound familiar in 2014

By JOHN MAGINNIS and JEREMY ALFORD LaPolitics News Service

The new year will host old issues for the Louisiana Legislature, starting with a state budget that is beginning to pull itself out of the muck, but may not be in the black for the 2014-15 cycle.
Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, is predicting a “significant budget shortfall” that could exceed $500 million. Lawmakers will need to figure out how best to address that anticipated budget gap after the 2014 session convenes March 10 and before it adjourns June 2.
As for what’s new, Schroder and others are confident that a few old budget tricks will no longer be available for use due to a 2013 law that changes the way the Revenue Estimating Conference recognizes money and a recent court ruling that cracked down on the use of statutorily-dedicated funds.
But the usual intra-budget struggles can still be expected. For example, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said he’s ready to go to the mat for his office’s full $23 million marketing budget, which usually sees $8 million to $14 million siphoned off by the administration for other budget needs. Dardenne is likewise getting behind legislation again to create protections for tourism money or, more specifically, a fund to recruit major sporting events.
In the meantime, lawmakers need to devise a plan for spending the excess money collected by the state’s tax amnesty program and the surplus from the last fiscal year. Since the state constitution prohibits surpluses from being used for operating expenses like higher education, some are beginning to advocate on behalf of infrastructure projects like I-49 South.
“If I-49 South really is as important as we say, then all of or a substantial portion of this one-time budget surplus should be spent on it,” said Treasurer John Kennedy.
With a $12 billion infrastructure backlog, however, that could prove to be a controversial debate. Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe, has raised the possibility of another TIMED program, but that will take an additional dedicated revenue source — that is, another tax, which is a non-starter at the Capitol these days.
Even before the American Tort Reform Association declared Louisiana a “Judicial Hellhole” shortly before Christmas, lobbyists and lawmakers alike knew the 2014 session would serve as a battleground for yet another tort reform battle, with so-called oil and gas legacy cases leading the way.
“Gross abuses and questions of corruption have created an unpredictable lawsuit environment that threatens Louisiana’s long-term economic competitiveness and undermines the legitimacy of our entire legal system,” said Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
There will also be a drive to curb the ability of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to file litigation, which it has already done against 97 oil and gas companies. It’ll be interesting to see, though, whether the potential legislation will include any other levee districts or political subdivisions.
Another fresh angle that could emerge in the 2014 regular session involves environmental justice and the package of bills being developed by Russel Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general who gained notoriety during Hurricane Katrina. Among other topics, he wants to revive the policy exchange over water management.
Good government lawmakers will be looking to usher in changes to campaign finance law and broker new limits on how Tulane scholarships can be awarded by legislators, if an internal fix isn’t implemented first. Funding for higher education will be retread as well, including tuition freedom and spending on TOPS, two debates that could potentially be overshadowed by the push to reverse or alter Common Core.
As for the customary bang from the right, Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City, is considering legislation once more to allow concealed weapons to be brought into establishments like restaurants. A new twist to the gun debate could emerge with an economic incentive package for gun manufacturers in Louisiana.
To be certain, other sleeper issues will sneak up on us as well and there will be more than one surprise that escapes from the 2014 regular session. But most of the issues are old favorites — with the real question being whether they’re capable of producing different results.
Another poll puts Vitter ahead in governor’s race
In polling both a large field of candidates for governor and a small one, a new statewide survey leaked to shows that U.S. Sen. David Vitter holds a small lead over New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.
The poll was conducted by Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research for Dardenne’s campaign using a sample size of 800 likely voters. The margin of error is 3.5 percent.
In a three-way race with party ID provided, Vitter leads with 35 percent, followed by Landrieu at 29 percent and Dardenne at 22 percent.
In the event of an all-GOP runoff, the poll shows Vitter leading Dardenne, 40-36 percent.
The WPA poll was put in the field Nov. 12-14, just one week after the most recent Southern Media and Opinion Research poll was conducted. The SMOR poll had Vitter placing first with 30 percent in what was an independent poll, followed by Treasurer John Kennedy at 19 percent; Dardenne, 18 percent; state Rep. John Bel Edwards, 8 percent; and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, 2 percent.
They Said It
“If it were left up to me, you couldn’t use your own money and you couldn’t take donations and we’d be campaigning out the back of a pick-up truck on a stump.” — Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, on campaign finance reforms
“My vehicle is messy. My closet is messy. My desk is messy. If there was ADD medication when I was a kid, my mother would have definitely had me on it.” — Angelle
For more Louisiana political news, visit or follow Maginnis and Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.

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