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Jindal's first year misunderstood by many observers

Before we can figure out how to assess Gov. Bobby Jindal’s first year in office, we need to get straight what he did and did not do. Some seem confused about exactly what that was, while others don’t seem to want to understand what that was.

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:

  • State spending is more restrained and somewhat more sensible, in great contrast to practically every prior administration
  • After years of talk, Jindal provided motive force to meaningful government ethics reform in the state to start changing the culture that government exists chiefly to redistribute resources to favored constituencies
  • After years of complaints, Jindal began slicing away at some of these redistribution efforts through use of the line-item veto
  • After years of lamentations, Jindal actually went out and eliminated without involving a drawn-out process some counterproductive business taxes
  • Even if he joined the parade late, Jindal did what no other governor likely would have done in recent memory, get behind an income tax cut for individuals even as he knew it would present big budget challenges this year, thereby ensuring its passage
  • Perhaps most radically to date, his scholarship/voucher education program that without his support never would have seen the light of day promises to challenge a state education system that puts more primacy on protecting educators’ jobs and salaries than in providing quality education
  • Perhaps most radically in the future, he has laid the groundwork for an indigent health care system that intends, if the idea is to provide such coverage comprehensively, to operate primarily on market forces rather than by government direction

    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.

    Anonymous said...

    I would be interested in Mr. Sadow's take on the $45 million purchase of the New Orleans Centre Mr. Jindal and his cronies on the Stadium and Exposition Board funded in short order with our taxpayer money.

    Does that qualify as "pork"? Is that not almost three times as large as the vetoes he signed of so called pork items?

    Does it not stink that the members of that board were for the most part very large contributors to the Governor? Is that ethics reform?

    Do you Mr. Sadow feel good about this purchase of an empty, some would distressed, commercial building with taxpayer money???

    Anonymous said...

    wow. $45 million. Too bad he's not fiscally responsible like the deomocrats in Congress who have spent 3.5 Trillion on the last couple months. You're complaining about spending $45 million on something that will bring a lot more money into Louisiana - what a joke.