Gov. Bobby Jindal appears to be whistling past the graveyard.
Until Friday, precious little in the way of any explanation of the plethora of retirement bills introduced during this legislative session has emanated from the fourth floor. Instead, the governor, as is his wont, has allowed his lackeys in the House and Senate to carry the water for him.
Not even protestations from Cindy Rougeou, executive director of the Louisiana State Employees’ Retirement System (LASERS) or from Frank Jobert, executive director of the Retired State Employees Association of Louisiana (RSEAL) could evoke a response from Jindal.
The mood throughout the administration appeared to be “Let them eat cake.”
But now a prestigious Dallas law firm has weighed in on the retirement bills that would have state employees work longer, pay more in contributions and get less in retirement benefits, saying, in effect, that virtually all the proposals are unconstitutional and most likely would not stand up in court.
Suddenly, the governor is squealing like the proverbial stuck pig.
And who does he squeal to? None other than the one publication in Louisiana that can be counted on to blithely endorse any utterance from Piyush Jindal: The Baton Rouge Business Report.
Why the Business Report? That’s easy. Publisher Rolfe McCollister, Jr., has poured $17,000 into Jindal’s campaign coffers since 1973. Julio Melara, president of Louisiana Business, Inc., under whose application the Business Report was incorporated, has chipped in another $7,500 since 2007. Stephen McCollister, the registered agent for Louisiana Business, was good for another $1,000 since 2007.
“Opponents to reform threaten lots of lawsuits,” sniffed the governor in his official response through his PR firm,…er, the Business Report.
“Every time the status quo knows reform is on the horizon, they sue or threaten a lawsuit,” he continued. “The report is filled with errors and bases their conclusions on cases from other states which are completely unrelated to Louisiana case law.”
Okay, let’s break these paragraphs down. First of all, the Legislative Auditor’s office went out of state to retain a law firm that does not have a dog in this hunt. Strasburger & Price, a Dallas law firm with offices in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, New York and Washington, D.C., certainly has no axe to grind in the Louisiana retirement issue.
Second, Jindal says the Strasburger report bases its conclusions on cases from other states. We respectfully refer the govern to Rachal, Regan v. State (2009), Hare v. Hodgins (1991), Parochial Employees’ Retirement System v. Caddo Parish Commission (1996), Segura v. Frank (1994), Board of Commissioners of Orleans Levee District v. Department of Natural Resources and Bourgeois v A.P. Green Indus, Inc. (2001), all Louisiana cases specifically cited in the Strasburger report.
Insofar as the 18 cases cited from other states, almost without exception, those cases turned on the U.S. Constitution, so it would be difficult to claim they are unrelated to Louisiana case law since the Strasburger report cited both the state and U.S. constitutions as the basis of its conclusions.
Of course, Jindal, as might be expected, claims the proposed reforms are constitutional because the legislature “has a constitutional mandate to maintain a sustainable retirement system—an obligation which exists both to protect the retirement system and taxpayers.”
No argument there. But tell us, Governor, what became of that constitutional mandate for the legislature to maintain a sustainable retirement system? The record, we believe, shows clearly that it was the legislature, not state employees that played a major role in digging this financial hole.
This is the same constitutional expert governor whose “most ethical administration in the state’s history” stumbled out of the starting gate and was tagged for an ethics violation fine early in his first term.
Jindal then proceeds to roll out a laundry list of supposed errors contained in the report, accusing the report’s authors of relying on a “vague conceptual understanding of the proposals, without an actual analysis of the bill text.”
Really? How would he know there was no “actual analysis” of the bill?
Jindal claims benefits are not retroactively changed, that the proposed 3 percent additional employee contribution is not being directed into the state general fund and that the additional 3 percent contribution is not a tax (though former House Speaker Jim Tucker said otherwise last year).
Those claims have been circulating all over the state for weeks from internet bloggers to legislators opposed to the bills. It seems strange that only now does the governor’s office make any effort, albeit a feeble effort, to refute the Strasburger study and to explain the bill.
Would someone from Jindal’s office now step forward and prevail upon the governor to explain why the administration has allowed these so-called “misconceptions” proliferate for so long with no effort to be “transparent and accountable?”
And would you please do that through some medium other than the governor’s personal PR firm, aka the Baton Rouge Business Report?
Or he can just continue whistling past the graveyard.