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Jindal endorsement leaves opening for his anti-tax critics

Through his nearly four years as governor, Bobby Jindal has attracted charges from a distinct but vociferous minority claiming he says one thing and does another. But now given a Hobson’s policy choice, Jindal has presented to these heretofore spurious opponents at least a small piece of ammunition that for the first time supports their assertion.

To date, the examples they have used lack validity. They complain about the ethics agenda that was largely Jindal’s creation that actually depoliticized and improved the process, that Jindal has not really reduced the size of government when the number of employees funded by state revenues continues to decrease and savings are being wrung through increased efficiencies in areas such as indigent health care, and that Jindal, who has argued consistently the opposite, supports “tax increases” yet cite increases in fees-for-service, including tuition, as obviously inapplicable examples. But, hold the phone on that last point, as, buffeted by political reality, Jindal has given them an opening with the first legitimate example validating their claim.

Asked about Amendment 1 on the Oct. 22 ballot, Jindal expressed support for it.
This caps the amount of money going into the Millennium Trust Fund at $1.38 billion, in essence creating over time an escalating amount of money to fund the Taylor Opportunity Program for Scholars – a laudable move as the funds diversion represents a proper prioritization of funding for programs if one can reconcile to the idea of large-scale use of dedication as a policy tool.

However, the amendment also writes into the Constitution a permanent four-cent tax on cigarettes, straight from a bill passed last session that Jindal vetoed he justified by saying he was opposed to reviving a tax ready to expire, terming it a new tax. Cleverly, supporters of the bill found enough votes to attach it to the amendment that Jindal prized highly, which as a resolution could not be vetoed by him.

Thus Bobby’s Choice, coming soon to a voting booth near you, where he had to choose whether to support a measure that raised a tax right after it was lowered, despite his opposition to new, raised taxes, in order to get funding for TOPS stabilized (currently, only a small amount of its funding comes from the MTF and the rest depends upon annual legislative appropriation). And he revealed it, that he would vote for the amendment.

Technically, he still can argue he did not sign or allow any bill to become law that would raise and/or create any new tax. Yet by signaling support for a measure that does that, for the first time his frustrated opponents can latch on to an act that at least plausibly they could call hypocritical – saying one thing but doing another.

Ironically for him, the amendment deserves rejection, and for reasons more substantial than taxation. It’s just not wise policy to stick these kinds of revenue-raising measures in the Constitution that locks in even more strictly a dedication making more difficult the ability to make proper priorities year-to-year according to objective conditions at the time. Worst of all, because it tackles the gathering of revenue from one source and then spending from a different source, it may well violate the constitutional prohibition against more than a single object in an amendment. These principles about the governing process loom even larger than principle over policy.

It would be a tough pill to swallow, but Jindal needed to oppose the amendment, not just out of political expediency to remain above legitimate criticism of hypocrisy, but also because it would be wiser to adhere to principles because by doing so produces better policy in this instance.

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