By Robert Mann
An alert reader has reminded me of Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s once-strong opposition to the use of one-time money to balance the Louisiana state budget.
In a May 7, 2008, statement, Jindal insisted, “That is like using your credit card to pay your mortgage.”
In the spending plan Jindal submitted to the Legislature for the coming fiscal year, the state’s higher education budget is full of one-time money, including contingencies from the potential sale of state assets.
As a New Orleans Times-Picayune story noted last month,
Overall, about two-thirds of the $773.5 million the state has budgeted for higher education will come from nonrecurring revenue, such as proceeds from the future sales of public property. Some of that money has yet to materialize and perhaps never will, angering conservative lawmakers who oppose the use of such fiscal maneuvers and worrying university administrators who are trying to put together reliable spending plans for their campuses.
On Thursday, legislators complained to Jindal administration officials about how they cobbled together the higher education budget. As reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate,
[S]tate Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, asked why the governor structured his budget in such a way that all the contingency and one-time funding is directed toward higher education.
“Why is it that the administration thinks it’s best to load up higher education with all this contingency money rather than spreading it out,” Schroder said, “… why is higher education being picked on?”
[Barry Dussé, state director of planning and budget for the Jindal administration] responded . . . telling Schroder, “We’re not anticipating any problems.”
Right. What could possibly go wrong?
Also on Thursday, state Higher Education Commissioner James Purcell told the House Appropriations Committee, “How do you plan, how do you project, how do you hire faculty when you have contingent funds and non-recurring funds in a budget? . . . At the minimum, I would like to have some of this risk redistributed across all state agencies.”
Time was when Jindal agreed with all those complaints about one-time funding. Had he been in the Legislature in 2008, it’s likely Jindal would have appointed himself leader of the Fiscal Hawks.
Here’s what he said in 2008:
May 07, 2008
BATON ROUGE – Today, Governor Bobby Jindal held a press conference to layout his priorities for investing any additional revenues identified by the Revenue Estimating Conference, which is expected to make an announcement concerning newly identified state funds on Friday, May 9th. Key legislative leaders joined Jindal at the press conference in the Governor’s Office Press Conference Room earlier today.
Governor Jindal said, “The enormous budget challenges that greeted us upon our arrival into office this January are no secret. As you know, as we began the budget process this year we had to first grapple with the legacy of $800 million in recurring expenditures in the current budget which were paid for using one-time money. That is like using your credit card to pay your mortgage.
“Creating recurring expenditures by spending one-time money is not just Fiscal Irresponsibility… it is a Failure to stand up for the taxpayers we were elected to serve. Today, our state’s financial ledger has grown unbalanced to an historically dangerous level.”
Jindal said, “On Friday, the Revenue Estimating Conference is expected to announce that we have a substantial amount of additional money available. I want to be clear: when this announcement is made – our absolute, number one, top priority must be to continue to pay down our state’s current $420 million reliance on one-time revenues for recurring expenses.
“We owe it to the taxpayers of Louisiana to continue to plug the $800 million recurring expenditure hole we inherited from the previous budget. Anything short of that would be a dereliction of duty to the people of our state.
“We must also begin to create a surplus in our state – to address the priorities of Louisiana’s future. That is why our next top priority must be to dedicate one-time money freed up by these newly identified recurring funds to creating a state surplus. Building up a surplus for our state is a sign of a healthy budget – just like when a family works to build up savings for their own household. Savings will help us fund our state’s priorities and also be available for any unanticipated needs that may arise in the future.”
Jindal also spoke on the letter he sent to leaders of the money committees last week, highlighting the importance of reining in spending on non-governmental organizations and ensuring taxpayer money is spent on projects that have been fully debated in the legislature, are completely disclosed online, and work toward addressing identified state priorities.
The Governor said, “We have to get our state back on track. Last year, the legislature passed more than $62 million in earmarks for “special projects” – much of which was identified as pork-barrel spending for special interests. And that amount last year doubled the $33 million in earmarks from the year before. We have to rein in out-of-control spending and completely turn around the exponential growth of “earmarks” and the outrageous funding of “special projects” in our state’s budget.”
Jindal added that, “Eliminating wasteful spending – and paying down our recurring expenses is the key to our state’s fiscal viability.”
Governor’s Jindal’s own proposed budget eliminated more than 1,400 state government vacant positions at a savings of $86 million – and did so, for the first time, using departments’ 5.5-year historical vacancy average to protect levels of service but also to ensure these cuts represent real and lasting reforms. This stands as a dramatic contrast to last year’s budget under the previous administration, which created more than 1,200 new state jobs and millions in other recurring expenses.
Jindal’s budget also eliminated two government offices and consolidated six others. His budget treated “special legislative projects” – or “earmarks” – placed in the budget by the previous legislature as “non-recurring” items and therefore eliminated them. This budget scrubbing resulted in cutting the state’s $800 million reliance on one-time revenues for recurring expenditures in half – knocking it down to $420 million.
- The remarkable Advocate editorial: “higher education is headed for a fiscal crash” (bobmannblog.com)
- Lawmakers say Jindal trying to oust college leader (sfgate.com)
- Higher education chief troubled by Jindal budget (wwltv.com)
- Jindal’s poll: bad across the board, but he’s hemorrhaging women (bobmannblog.com)