La. Gov. Gets Just Two Bills Passed in Special Session

December 18, 2006

Legislators gave Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco little of what she wanted in her failed legislative session, approving just two of her bills on Dec. 15: plans to rebate homeowners’ insurance fees and to use $300 million as a lure to attract a big new employer to Louisiana.

The special legislative session fizzled out two days before its deadline as the Senate and the House adjourned without bothering to finish work on Blanco bills that would have cut business taxes and given parents a $125 tax credit.

“The session was a disaster,” said Sen. Reggie Dupre, D-Houma, a Blanco ally.

The final day was the last in a string of setbacks for Blanco, who was roundly criticized for calling lawmakers to the Capitol without consulting them first about her agenda – not even her hand-picked committee chairs and floor leaders. Senators who usually support the governor, such as Dupre, were among those who voted to shut down early, ensuring that two of her pet projects were doomed.

“This entire session was ill-timed and ill-conceived,” said Sen. Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, who engineered the push to shut the Senate down early.

Blanco, visibly angry at her evening press conference, said the early adjournment came as a surprise to her. She said she regretted that lawmakers ended the session without passing the tax breaks.

“I am most disappointed that our legislative process shut down early … I was confident that the tax breaks were going to survive,” she said.

“The Republicans in the House set a sour tone and decided that partisan politics was more important than their own people.”

The governor said she hadn’t thought her proposals would be difficult to pass because lawmakers have said year after year that they support teacher pay raises, road repairs and other concepts included in her spending plans.

“I thought it was an easy vote,” she said.

One bill Blanco pushed through was the creation of a $300 million fund that would spend the cash on infrastructure, such as pilings, that will be necessary if German steelmaker ThyssenKrupp Steel AG decides to build a factory on land along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

Also passed was a bill that essentially would refund the fees – or “assessments” – that homeowners pay so the state-run insurance company, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., can pay off the nearly $1 billion debt it incurred after Hurricane Katrina. This year, Citizens imposed a 15 percent fee on all homeowners insurance companies in the state, most of which then passed it on to policyholders. Further assessments are set for future years.

The vast majority of the Democratic governor’s original agenda failed to get anywhere. Republicans in the House blocked her billion-dollar plan to fix highways and give pay raises to teachers, police officers, firemen and state workers. All but the two bills were blocked when lawmakers decided to go home early.

Hollis said he called for early adjournment because he was afraid House members were going to strip an income tax break from a measure that also reduced taxes for businesses.

The House voted to adjourn without debating the business tax cut bill after a motion by Rep. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. LaFleur said Democrats felt it would be unfair to reject pay raises for teachers and police but pass tax cuts for businesses.

LaFleur said he thought the session’s two most pressing matters were approved: money for the steel mill and Citizens fee rebate. The rest, he said, can be considered in another legislative session when there was more time.

Rep. Jim Tucker, head of the House Republican Caucus, saw it differently. Tucker, R-Terrytown, said Democrats voted to go home because they were afraid of losing face by allowing the passage of tax breaks after they had insisted that other spending measures get passed, too. Tucker noted that the tax credits originally were proposed by Democrats.

“I cannot believe that the Democrats left tax cuts on the table, left child credits on the table, left pay raises on the table. This is unbelievable,” Tucker said.

Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report.

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