|Jindal at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University|
Gov. Bobby Jindal has a plan: Do for the country what he’s done for Louisiana. Cut taxes and cut the government workforce and the economy will bloom, he promises. It’s a message he’s peddling as he lays the groundwork for a presidential run. Indeed, as Jindal is quick to say, private-sector job growth and the economy in Louisiana have outpaced the national average during his tenure as governor. “I’m a fiscal conservative,” he told the influential Conservative Political Action Conference last year, in explaining these successes.But here’s what Jindal doesn’t say: Louisiana’s budget is hemorrhaging red ink, and it’s getting worse. He inherited a $900 million surplus when he became governor seven years ago, and his administration’s own budget documents now show the state is facing deficits of more than $1 billion for as far as the eye can see. There are no easy solutions today because Jindal has increasingly balanced the budget by resorting to one-time fixes, depleting the state’s reserve funds and taking money meant for other purposes.“There are all kinds of tricks in the budget,” said Greg Albrecht, the state legislature’s chief economist, a nonpartisan position. Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment rate has risen from 3.8 percent when Jindal took office, a point below the national average then, to 6.7 percent today—nearly a full point higher than today’s national average. Jindal omits these inconvenient facts when he bashes President Barack Obama and Washington for “bankrupting” the federal government and mismanaging the national economy.[O]ne topic thus far has garnered little national attention: His economic record in the Bayou State.Democrats in the state are quick to point to the budget problems. But what’s striking are the harsh critiques from fellow Republicans, who say Jindal’s presidential ambitions and frequent campaign trips outside of Louisiana have taken precedence over managing his home state’s economic affairs. “I’m hoping he will multitask and spend some of his time with us,” said state Treasurer John Kennedy, a Republican. “I’m a numbers guy. We have serious, serious problems with our budget. For seven years, we have spent more than we’ve taken in.”Republican state legislators are particularly scathing in saying Jindal no longer exercises leadership, but they don’t want to go on the record for fear of losing their choice committee assignments or having the governor kill their pet projects.Jindal blamed the state’s budget woes on factors beyond his control. “The oil price drop has been good for consumers, but it’s had a big impact on our revenue,” Jindal told me.But that’s not how Republican elected officials and independent budget experts see it. They say that the plunge in oil prices and the subsequent loss of revenue for the state treasury has exacerbated—but did not create—the budget issues. The real cause, according to these sources: Jindal’s aversion to tackling politically tough issues and his tendency to resort to ploys to paper over the problems. And then, of course, there is The Pledge.In 2003, as a private citizen running for governor (he narrowly lost), Jindal promised to “oppose and veto all efforts to increase taxes.” This was part of the bargain he agreed to when he took the pledge—the shorthand description of the Tax Protection Pledge hawked by Americans for Tax Reform, the group headed by anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist. As governor, he has taken the “no tax” commitment to such lengths that in 2011 he vetoed legislation supported by dozens of Republicans that sought renewal of a 4-cent portion of the state’s 36-cent-per-pack cigarette tax, the country’s third lowest.