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28.2.08

Jindal: compromising pragmatist or shrewd conservative?

With the special session on ethics behind him, as Gov. Bobby Jindal offered a few peeks into his fiscal policies, he prompts the query whether he will govern as a conservative diluted by pragmatism, or as a politically shrewd conservative reformer.

Yesterday, the Jindal Administration made two important announcements, that the LaCHIP program for providing health insurance for lower-income children would be expanded, and that teachers would get yet another pay raise. On the surface, neither would suggest Jindal was ready to pursue fundamental fiscal reform that uses taxpayers’ dollars more productively and returns some of them to their owners.

But look more closely and these decisions are not of the same old free-spending mold of its past. In the LaCHIP instance, the newly covered children in families up to the 250 percent of poverty level line would co-pay for care, which in a similar proposal by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco months ago without co-payment was rejected by the federal government which mainly funds Medicaid which covers LaCHIP. Jindal and the federal government recognize that such a program should not by design out-compete the private sector, nor should those without some limited means of paying be absolved of such responsibility by taxpayers.

And in the case of the raise, while teachers have done little to deserve a raise judging by the slow progress of improving education in the state, as part of the total increase ($56 million in new funds, $14 million from the portion set aside by law from funds dedicated to education although not all teachers would get a raise from that), Jindal also said merit pay to the tune of $20 million would be funded, a first at the state level. In his campaign rhetoric, Jindal recognized the old government monopoly way of education had to be reformed, and merit pay while perhaps is the least potent way to create better education, it also is the least controversial compared to other necessary changes such as teacher testing and vouchers.

These initial policy views mean one of two things, either Jindal intends to govern as a conservative but whose principles are shaky enough that he will make significant compromises – which would imperil his success in bringing about fundamental change in Louisiana – or at this point he believes as a true conservative a few tactical retreats are needed to get his main agenda into place. For example, as logical as merit pay for teachers is – reward better performers – teacher unions will squeal long and loud in opposition as not only does it violate their standard that teachers should get the most pay for the least work and performance, but they fear it could lead to the other reforms that will require more competence from teachers. Jindal can help offset that resistance by firmly tying pay raises to merit pay – remove the latter, and he’ll line item veto the former.

Theoretically, Jindal could go either way. But those interested in the better welfare of the state hope his motivation was shrewd politics, not as a pragmatist of the kind that has failed the state before.

2 comments:

t. wong f/k/a baton rouge du nord said...

Or perhaps he is actually a good human being that is interested in the welfare of his constituents, especially those most in need of mercy.

That is what I will believe until shown otherwise.

Jeff Sadow said...

>Or perhaps he is actually a good human being that is interested in the welfare of his constituents, especially those most in need of mercy.

Absolutely he is, but that is the essence of being a true conservative -- allowing government to intrude into people's lives only when bad fortune strikes them, to help them overcome it. However, why wasting tax dollars on unneeded pay raises would be equivalent to that is beyond me. So that would mean Jindal is being the shrewd conservative, if he thinks he must use the hook of pay raises in order to get merit pay onto the books. But if he thinks these raises truly are deserved, that is an error in judgment.