Conservative watchdog C.B. Forgotston argues that in his first year, Jindal increased spending by $1 billion and the government employee headcount by 2,700. His numbers are not far off – Jindal proposed an increase in non-disaster related spending of $760 million and total state employees as of last Jun. 30 were up 3,181 over the previous 12 months – but these tend to obscure the picture somewhat. If we look at only the general fund amounts excluding that portion tied to disaster relief, that budgeted figure (which was a little less than actually budgeted but will be more than what actually gets spent) was an increase of $466.5 million or an increase of 3.31 percent. Headcount associated with this spending actually was scheduled to be down 1,035.
The general fund numbers are the best representation because they are the ones that Jindal (and the Legislature which must pass budget bills) have most control over. Most of the rest of spending and positions associated with it are tied to the federal money coming into the state over which state politicians only have partial control (for example, some is mandated by the federal government and matched to a certain extent given state actions). Of course, this does not include hundreds of million of dollars in nonrecurring state funds from the general fund’s past spent in 2008’s second special session with Jindal’s blessing.
By this metric, Jindal did a decent job of holding spending to around the rate of inflation and, further, in the spending of federal money reduced dramatically the amount that came from nonrecurring sources which meant where state spending would have to increase in the future – such as in Medicaid where the state’s share is scheduled this year will go from 28 to 32 percent of the total (which Jindal hopes will not take place, arguing the continuing disaster recovery mode justifies the lower share) – would necessitate less surprise, unbudgeted state expenditures. Whether this makes Jindal a “fiscal conservative” may be in the eyes of the beholder.
Definitional issues aside, at least Forgotston pays attention to what Jindal actually does. Others seem unable to grasp what Jindal seeks to achieve even though it is right in front of them. Jindal’s most prominent leftist media critic insinuates he makes his record appear more accomplished that it actually is, while the state’s most famous liberal former politician/ex-prisoner claims Jindal is all perception without tangible results, and the head of a leading interest group with a hit-and-miss record on sensible state reform argues Jindal doesn’t have a clear vision on what he wants to do.
It’s a bit curious why such comments would be made because there’s no lack of clarity at all in what Jindal has done. Simply, he is trying to move the state from its past populist leanings towards a more fiscally responsible and service-oriented posture that relies less on government intervention. This is not something those on the left wish to see happen because it empowers individuals at the expense of government and its liberal allies. Consider:
This is a record of at least some modest achievement (even if not enough for Jindal’s critics on the right like Forgotston) and is misunderstood by others either because they are inattentive or because they have an agenda in obfuscating it out of opposition to it. In some ways the latter harkens back to his campaign, where liberals in the media and elsewhere kept trying to convince voters before and after Jindal too office that he was being too vague, a kind of self-denial about Jindal that if they kept repeating long enough what they wanted Jindal to be (or not), he would (or would not) turn into it.
So let’s call it like it is, even if Jindal himself doesn’t typically phrase his own actions in such terms: Jindal is pursuing a reform agenda of conservative leanings, and if he is acting cautiously with it because he is relatively new to his position of power, expect that reticence to dissipate in proportion to the passage of time and the resolution of budgetary dilemmas. To date, he had given no reason to expect otherwise.