By Robert Mann
Now that his final legislative session is history, and he will soon decamp to Des Moines to seek the presidency, it’s time to begin the painful process of assessing Gov. Bobby Jindal’s legacy. Say what you will about how he damaged higher education and public health care and the needless turmoil he created in elementary and secondary education. Rail against how turned his religious beliefs into law, i.e., teaching creationism in our schools. Shake your head in disgust at how he ignored or exacerbated our worst problems – poverty, income inequality, a regressive tax system and a hideous incarceration rate.
History will be ruthless to Jindal on many fronts. Five years hence, however, I predict that if we remember Jindal’s for anything, it will be his disastrous stewardship of the state’s finances. His ineptitude with budgets alone should disqualify him from supervising a small-town Dairy Queen, much less managing the U.S. government’s executive branch.
Had he resigned prior to this year’s legislative session, his record would have been dismal enough. But the just-completed session firmly secured Jindal’s distinction as the worst fiscal manager ever to serve as Louisiana governor. I’ll save the worst for last, but let’s review the record:
In 2008, Jindal inherited an $865 million surplus. He and legislators promptly spent it. That should have been the first hint that he knew little about sound fiscal management.
Next, Jindal mistook the post-Katrina revenue boom (due to a massive infusion of federal money) for a permanent economic recovery. So, he slashed income taxes in his first regular session. Combined with ill-advised income tax cuts signed earlier by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, it was a mistake that blew an $800 million hole in the budget and launched us down the road to our present sad condition.
Because he surrendered so much revenue in the beginning, Jindal’s budgets have always included obscene amounts of one-time money. Despite bragging that he’s balanced every budget, Jindal ended most fiscal years with a “structural” deficit. In other words, he only “balanced” the books by draining various savings accounts and trust funds. Those funds were intended for specific purposes, which did not include serving as piggy banks for times when the state’s treasury ran short of cash.
For example, he and legislators “balanced” the current fiscal year’s budget by robbing dedicated fund accounts and selling state assets to the tune of almost $1 billion. In 2008, Jindal correctly observed, “That is like using your credit card to pay your mortgage.” Whatever happened to that guy?
Jindal also drove the state into virtual bankruptcy by showering businesses with hundreds of millions in reckless tax incentives and direct state appropriations. His prolificacy in subsidizing business – Jindal now calls it “corporate welfare” – is why legislators finally found it necessary to increase business taxes.
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