By Robert Mann
Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration, Kristy Nichols, wants you to know that everything is just fine. Sure, the state’s finances seem a mess. There’s been a parade of spending freezes and mid-year budget cuts, a surfeit of one-time money, erroneous revenue projections and crippling cutbacks for higher education and other areas.
But, seriously, don’t worry. Nichols says it’s all good.
It’s strange, but whenever Nichols speaks, I hear Stanley Motss, the fictional movie producer played by Dustin Hoffman in the 1997 film “Wag the Dog.”
It’s a classic comedy about a president who launches a phony war against Albania after he’s caught in a sex scandal weeks before his re-election. Campaign aides recruit Motss, a legendary Hollywood movie mogul, to manufacture a distracting, counterfeit conflict.
They stage a “war” and get their president re-elected, but Motss and his co-conspirators encounter crisis and calamity at every turn. When the CIA leaks word that the war has prematurely ended, Motss hilariously bucks up his dejected colleagues. “This is nothing!” he says with great cheer. When their private jet crashes, Motss and his friends sit among the smoldering wreckage, disconsolate and defeated. “This is nothing!” Motss insists.
Listen closely to Nichols when she’s questioned about her boss’ various budget misadventures. Like the self-deluded Motss, she can’t acknowledge reality. As the folly of Jindal’s budget schemes become increasingly evident, she essentially tells us, “This is nothing!”
Last year, when legislators questioned using hundreds of millions in property sales and other one-time money to plug the 2013-14 budget, Nichols blithely assured them, “We have not put anything in the budget that isn’t expected to fully materialize.” That wasn’t the case, which is one reason why Nichols recently borrowed $70 million in so-called “seed money” from state Treasurer John Kennedy’s office to help the state’s universities survive the current fiscal year.