Monday, August 20, 2012

Bobby Jindal's Legislative Lap Dogs

Carrying Water for Jindal

By Dayne Sherman
Talk About the South Column
Published in the Hammond, Louisiana, Daily Star,
Thibodaux Daily Comet, and The Houma Courier
(Shorter version in several newspapers as a letter.)

Mon., Aug. 20, 2012 / 700 words

The Louisiana Legislature passed a host of new education laws this summer. Most of these measures are currently being litigated with many more lawsuits to come as citizens of this state realize that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education “reform” programs are not only unconstitutional but flawed in every conceivable way possible.

Hardly a week passes without a new scandal: a voucher school being led not only by a former state representative but a self-proclaimed prophet and apostle, a Delhi-based charter school that loves state money but not pregnant students, BESE’s corrupt “walking quorums,” the use of wacky Creationist textbooks that are now a national laughingstock, and Monroe News-Star’s planned lawsuit against State Superintendent of Education John White over his refusal to make available requested charter-voucher program documents.

This obvious catastrophe is Gov. Jindal’s greatest achievement. Unfortunately, we’ll be decades fixing his K-12 “reform” project.

Jindal’s wholesale attack on Louisiana teachers, higher education institutions, public school students, and public hospitals would not be complete without his signature retirement reform legislation. For the good of Louisiana, he began to lose interest in the legislative session after winning his big education “reform” battles. One state retirement bill, HB 61, did pass.

I refer to this as the “Cat Food” Retirement Plan because many future state workers will be lucky to afford generic cat food for dinner in their retirement years. Fans of the program call it the “Cash Balance Plan.”

The plan helps Jindal begin to move all state pension funds closer to privatization like the state health insurance programs, and it enables him to have a concrete accomplishment to tout for national GOP office.

However, without Social Security benefits, which state employees are not allowed to contribute into nor earn, he has made Louisiana public employment the worst place to work of any state or federal agency in America. The “Cat Food” Retirement Plan begins on July 1, 2013, for new hires.

There are serious questions about whether the plan will cause massive IRS tax penalties on employee investments and whether some of the state workforce could be required to begin paying into Social Security, which is not part of the “Cat Food” Retirement Plan and will cost Louisiana taxpayers even more money. Rather than waiting for a determination by the feds, Jindal is pressing on with the plan according to an Aug. 10 Advocate report.

In a heroic effort, the Retired State Employees Association has filed suit over HB 61 (Act 483). Why? Not because the “Cat Food” bill is in and of itself unconstitutional, but because the bill costs the state tax money. Such bills require a 2/3s supermajority vote, and Jindal’s most faithful water boy, House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R-Lake Charles), allowed the bill to “pass” without the 70 votes required by law. Indeed, the actuarial report on HB 61 is clear. The new plan will create an unfunded accrued liability, and it will cost the state more than the current Defined Benefit Plan.

Does the Louisiana Legislature actually violate the constitution in order to please Bobby Jindal?

Only on certain days that end in a “y.” Unless unconstitutional laws are challenged by citizens, smoke-filled room politics will not be stopped. An unconstitutional law remains a Louisiana law unless challenged and defeated in a courtroom. Unfortunately, these challenges are far too rare.

Why was the retirement legislation needed? To protect the state retirement systems and save money, the backers said. However, the very opposite occurred. The new plan will cost the state more money than the old plan.

It should be noted that the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System was recently named a top 10 performing state pension in the country based on 10-year investment returns.

As political commentator C.B. Forgotson says, Louisiana should adopt a new state motto: “If it ain’t broke, break it; if it’s broke, leave it alone.”

When will our legislators stand up and tell our absentee governor that they’re done carrying water for his national political agenda?

I hope sooner rather than later.
Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website at

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