By Robert Mann
In the business of running for president, there are advantages and there are qualifications. Maybe you exude charisma. Perhaps you enacted an innovative education reform program. Those are advantages. And they don’t count for much with Republican primaries voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire if you don’t meet the basic qualifications for the job.
In Republican politics these days, the qualifications are simple: You must never have raised a tax and, if a governor, you must never have presided over an unbalanced state budget. All your advantages — your personality, your policy credentials, the importance of your state in Electoral College politics — won’t help you much if you don’t meet these basic qualifications.
That, of course, is why Gov. Bobby Jindal and his aides are so reluctant to admit what everyone outside their inner circle knows: Louisiana government ended the 2014 fiscal year with a $141 million budget deficit. As Jindal understands, he cannot get past the 2016 Iowa presidential caucuses if voters there grasp that embarrassing, disqualifying news.
If you visit the main Louisiana government website, you won’t find a word about the Jindal deficit. That’s because Jindal and his commissioner of administration, Kristy Nichols, assert that the state ended the fiscal year with a $178.5 million surplus. It’s a number Jindal and Nichols achieved by sweeping, as Nichols acknowledged, “a variety of funds.”
In other words, faced with an embarrassing deficit, Jindal unleashed his fiscal vacuum cleaner and sucked up every spare dime he could find in virtually every corner of state government.
Jindal might boast of a surplus, but that’s not what happened. Louisiana ended the 2014 fiscal year with an “operational budget deficit” of $140.6 million, the Legislative Fiscal Office’s chief economist, Greg Albrecht, reported in October. Jindal only reconciled the state’s books, Albrecht noted, by seizing “unexpended fee and inter-agency transfer collections.”
Let’s say, for example, that last year I spent more than I earned. By late December, I’m so broke that I cannot make my mortgage payment. Upon realizing this fact, I sneak into my children’s bedroom as they sleep. Only after I empty their piggy banks, pawn off my son’s Xbox and sell my daughter’s cell phone do I have enough to pay my bills.
After all that, I have $100 left over. What do you know? I ended the year with a surplus! Aren’t I a brilliant and prudent money manager?
When it comes to the state’s finances, Jindal is just that kind of “parent.” He signed a reckless income tax cut for the wealthy in 2008, which permanently undermined the state’s tax base. To address that problem, he adopted a troubling habit of balancing his budgets with non-recurring revenue, such as selling off state assets and robbing reserve accounts dedicated for specific purposes. (In 2014, Jindal’s budget contained almost a billion dollars in one-time money, something he once railed against.)
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.