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Jindal vetoes COLA, signs state budget

Governor Bobby Jindal has signed a $24.6 billion state budget that includes an additional $36 million for public education, but vetoed a 1.5% cost of living adjustment for retired teachers, school employees and other public servants.

Public education is widely seen as one of the winners in a legislative session that began with lawmakers facing a $1.6 billion shortfall and a governor intent on burnishing his presidential bona fides by holding the line on new revenues.

Losers include retirees whose modest COLA would have amounted to about $30 per month – much less than an anticipated hike in insurance premiums.

Louisiana Federation of Teachers President Steve Monaghan noted that public education’s $36 million increase was approved by resolution and is not part of the Minimum Foundation Program formula. The MFP was rejected by the Senate Education Committee, and reverts to the previous year’s formula.

“When next year’s MFP formula is written, we will fight to make sure that the $36 million is recognized and will be a continuing increase in the education budget,” Monaghan said.

The additional funds for public education came in a resolution authored by Rep. John Bel Edwards (D-Amite). Rep. Edwards introduced a similar resolution when the MFP stalled in 2013, marking the first increase in education funding since the beginning of the Jindal administration.

The additional funding increases the base student allocation from $3,961 to $4,051, and ensures that raises granted to classroom teachers last year will be continued in the coming year.

Monaghan said he is very disappointed that Jindal vetoed the retiree COLA, which would have been paid for from a special fund fed by retirement system investment earnings.

“The money is sitting there, ready for a COLA,” Monaghan said. “It’s shameful that the governor’s political ambitions outrank the needs of retired state employees.”

The author of the COLA bill, Rep. Sam Jones (D-Franklin), had harsh words for the governor. “Whatever his burning hatred is for state employees and teachers, I guess on his way to Iowa he had to stick his finger at them at one more time," Rep. Jones told reporters.

While Jindal held the line on an increase for retirees, he vetoed a bill that would have reined in his own travel expenses. The bill prohibited the governor from paying his state police guard for out-of-state travels on the presidential campaign trail.

One high point of the legislative session was the rejection of a bill that would have prohibited public sector union members from paying their dues via payroll deduction, Monaghan said.

“This was an attempt by a few very wealthy big businessmen to diminish the effectiveness of unions like the LFT,” Monaghan said. “It was an issue that most legislators did not want to confront while faced with a budget crisis.”

The author of that bill, Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) said he has already reserved a spot for the same bill on next year’s session calendar.

For a humorous look at the winners and losers in this year’s legislative session, visit Gambit’s report on the session at this link.