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Jindal finally on board tax cut train, but paid high fare

Finally, almost a month later, Gov. Bobby Jindal jumped on the train spawned by state Sen. Buddy Shaw’s SB 87 which would provide a tax cut for middle-class households to the tune of $302 million a year. The wonder is why he didn’t leap early into the engine cab rather than catch onto the caboose, and what prompted him to do so?

Despite information showing excess state funds beyond what Jindal’s 2008-09 budget had anticipated, despite the House cutting spending that would have partially offset the “cost” of the cut, despite legislative criticism of some of Jindal’s spending plans, the most Jindal ever committed to on this bill was after initial opposition he agreed he would sign in it if commensurate cuts were made. Meanwhile, others perceived that in allowing a poison pill amendment that altered the bill to make it wipe out individual, estate, and trust income taxes over 10 years that would give Jindal an excuse not to sign it, Jindal really wanted to kill it.

This line of behavior, given Jindal’s stated desire to reduce the size of government and his goal of reducing or eliminating income taxes in the future, could lead only to two assumptions about Jindal’s thinking on the matter. One was Jindal had very serious concerns about looming budget deficits and the use of “one-time” money (generated from non-recurring sources like federal grants, even if they would be considered “recurring” under the state’s definition for budgeting purposes) to fund recurring commitments and even given his enthusiasm for tax relief he felt he simply could not do it.

However, Jindal never tried to make a public case to justify his opposition on these grounds, which either was a sign of poor political skill or implied the other potential motive, that Jindal really didn’t care about delivering tax cuts when he had a decent chance to do so. Whatever the reason, Jindal today announced his support for the original bill with only one change, beginning implementation in tax/budget year 2009 rather than 2008.

What changed Jindal’s mind? Was it irreversible momentum that made him go against his better judgment about the budget and/or skepticism about tax cuts? Did further review satisfy him that a 2009 start would not be imperiling state finances? Or was there some kind of deal made? (Maybe some of all of the above?)

If a deal is involved with the House and/or Senate, likely it would involve either or both of two things. One is with the issue of earmarks slipped into the state’s operating budget that Jindal promised to review very stringently, the other is legislator pay raises to among the highest in the nation and the highest in the South despite this being a part-time job in a state that underperforms in almost every way, which one might presume Jindal would oppose on the principle of smaller government.

The House and Senate may have threatened Jindal to send the amended bill through and dare him to veto it unless they got these kinds of concessions. If they did and Jindal blinked, in a few weeks he unenthusiastically will pursue these ends. Thus the people would suffer unwise spending if so in addition to Jindal’s squandering of political capital. But if he shows zeal with his veto pen, nothing may have been brokered.

Regardless, Jindal took a big hit to his reputation on his issue. In order for him to reassure a number of conservatives and reformers that heretofore have supported him, in the future he may have to be act more boldly more quickly than he had planned on their agendas.

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