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Jindal can remain unscathed despite tough fiscal times

(From five years ago, I take it back.)

A recent news article asks how long Gov. Bobby Jindal can continue to enjoy high popularity given budgetary difficulties in the state. The answer is, unless he doesn’t pay attention to certain things, a very long time.

For the fact is, a mildly conservative public in the state approves of an agenda implemented by Jindal to this point that has been mildly conservative. Thus, the majority only may begin to question Jindal’s handling of potentially bad budget deficits if he begins to cut what are considered services of some importance which also are seen as presently well-managed which cumulatively begins to affect a substantial number of the citizenry.

So far, that’s not been the case with one possible exception. Because of constitutional limitations, with two exceptions cuts to date across the budget have been broad and not very deep. Since, and with good reason, Louisiana state government in general has been seen as bloated and unusually inefficient and the vast majority of the citizenry has seen cuts that heretofore have no real impact on their lives, there’s little reason for them to be upset with Jindal over these, especially if the alternative is raising taxes.

For one of the two areas that are forcibly disproportionately cut, those hitting higher education in sum bring little negativity to Jindal. Being a state of lower educational attainment and quality does tend to make the public as a whole less likely to want to support higher education, but more of this has to do with self-inflicted wounds by higher education itself. It insists on running an inefficient governance system that results in one of the highest number of institutions and highest per capita costs in the country while charging in the middle range of tuition. Until it can explain these inconvenient facts to a skeptical public or change them, Jindal will not be harmed politically by this issue.

In the other, health care provision, the vast majority of clients in this area typically are poorer and less educated and thus susceptible to the false promises of liberalism, to which Jindal does not subscribe. While some of this group may be adversely impacted by these significant cuts, in large part they already disapprove of Jindal for his insistence that people expect less out of government and society and do more for themselves. So, again, political damage can be limited here.

Yet this also is a partial exception, in that if cuts here aren’t smart and appear to cut off truly necessary services to the deserving, Jindal could be perceived as too mean-spirited. Therefore, in handling this area, the largest by far in absolute dollars removed, Jindal must appear to be making cuts fairly among different areas of client support that do not appear to risk lives and health.

This he can do, and so far has been doing, by emphasizing the cost-saving aspects of providing a similar level of service. For an example of this, there are recent moves to close state-run institutions in favor of decentralized, private sector group homes for the developmentally disabled where dollar figures demonstrate the captured saved money. However, this must continue; for example, while the Resource Allocation Model has been employed to match appropriate number of hours of home-based care to clients, it has not yet been deployed to nursing homes and until it is, Jindal can be accused of favoring private interests in that industry over patients.

Other recent developments can assist Jindal in maintaining voter popularity in tough times. The products of the Commission on Streamlining Government, now available, and of the Postsecondary Education Review Commission, soon to be available, Jindal can refer to for backup in pursuing these ideas in front of the Legislature, whose enactment of most of their suggestion will allow whatever might be controversial from them not to be pinned entirely on Jindal.

However, in reference to disproportionate cuts, Jindal cannot use the excuse that he is hamstrung by the law and Constitution. Last year, he proposed reviewing the nearly 400 dedicated funds and to change procedures dealing with a budget deficit position that would have induced greater flexibility into the system, but could not win the Legislature’s support. He must try again to show he does not want to live by this system, change of which will reduce the burden on health care and higher education and create better prioritization of state spending.

Take this course – without raising taxes – and Jindal largely will be immune from any ill-effects on his public support caused by fiscal difficulties. Indeed, should he manage to pull that off, he will gain far more accolades – and political capital for any future electoral ambitions – than had he and the state had the fortune of more pleasant budgetary times.

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