The Republican wunderkind has failed Louisiana as a fiscal steward.
By JEREMY ALFORD
When Gov. Bobby Jindal took office in January 2008, he inherited a state budget that included a $1 billion surplus. During these tough economic times, that seems like a distant memory, almost a fairy tale, yet it was only four years ago.
What did Jindal do with all that money? In the hip-hop vernacular, he made it rain. He rolled back income taxes that voters approved under the so-called Stelly Plan in 2002, plowed $245 million into lawmakers’ pet projects and created a slew of tax breaks, including one with a price tag of $360 million. Jindal called it “terrific news.”
The good news didn’t last long.
Jindal’s first Christmas in the Governor’s Mansion brought news of a $341 million mid-year budget shortfall. The young governor, an avowed fiscal conservative, had somehow allowed the state to spend more money than it took in. Complicating matters, revenue forecasters warned of a possible $2 billion deficit for the 2009-2010 budget year.
From that point forward, Louisiana’s fiscal fortunes went into free-fall, even as the governor’s press office cranked out news releases crowing about Louisiana’s supposed good fortunes. During the summer of 2009, Jindal convinced lawmakers to establish the Streamlining Government Commission. He called for $802 million in recommended cuts. The commission made 238 recommendations toward that goal, but less than half of them were enacted.
In 2010, lawmakers faced a $580 million mid-year budget deficit amid reports of a $1.6 billion fiscal “cliff” the following year. The centerpiece of Jindal’s 2010 legislative package was a bill aimed at online sex predators. In essence, he told voters to pay no attention to that fiscal demon behind the curtain.
As the 2011 session neared, the $1.6 billion shortfall loomed large; some said it could approach $2 billion. Thanks to some clever accounting and some fiscal legerdemain that would make Enron blush, the $1.6 billion “shortfall” was covered. At least for one year — enough to get Jindal past his re-election campaign.
Or was it?
This past December, two months after his “landslide” re-election, Jindal had to make $251 million in mid-year cuts. Then, last month, the Revenue Estimating Conference announced another revenue gap exceeding $514 million — $211 million for the current fiscal year and an estimated $303 million for the year beginning July 1.
In every year since Jindal took office, the administration’s budget numbers have proved way off the mark. Jindal’s bad math has become a chronic problem for Louisiana.
How did this happen? The REC shares part of the blame — and rest assured Team Jindal will make sure that someone other than the governor gets blamed. As its name implies, the REC is charged with estimating state revenues — independently of the governor and lawmakers — and its estimates are binding. Since 2008, the REC, packed with Jindal backers, has overestimated revenues. That’s anything but a conservative approach.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 20 states have crafted current-year budgets without mid-year corrections. So it is possible to budget prudently, even in these difficult economic times. One of the reasons Louisiana does not rank among the prudent states is because it’s easier for Jindal to pretend there’s no real crisis — until after the annual legislative sessions. Then he can cut as he pleases without major legislative battles.
If he has a fiscal policy, it could be summed up in a question: Why deal with a budget crisis today when you can put it off ’til tomorrow?
So here we are. State government salaries are higher than ever, especially in the executive branch, while funding for health care and education has been cut significantly.
What would have happened if, back in 2008, Jindal had invested that $1 billion surplus and prodded lawmakers to temporarily suspend Stelly instead of repealing it?
The answer is speculative, but no guessing is required to conclude that Bobby Jindal has failed Louisiana as a fiscal steward.
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
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The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
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A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
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A federal appeals panel ruled Monday that businesses don't have to prove that they were directly harmed by BP's 2010 Gulf Of Mexico oil spill to collect settlement payments.
The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has closed Interstate 10 from I-49 in Lafayette to Seigen Lane in Baton Rouge.
Jim Bernhard, who engineered the sale of The Shaw Group for $3 billion, recently has told several people involved in Democratic politics that he intends to run for governor in 2015.
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