Gov. Bobby Jindal likes lists, always has.
True, as far back as the early 1970s when Congressman Speedy Long ran on Louisiana’s being at the bottom of the “good” lists and the top of the “bad” rankings, politicians have trotted out lists whenever they needed the evidence to shore up their policy arguments.
But none of them has come close to Jindal in mastering the art. Right after taking office in 2008, Jindal quoted various rankings and pressured legislators to pass laws requiring financial disclosures for most elected officials and top administrators. He then referred to the state’s climb on the lists as proof of a new “gold standard” for ethics.
(It should be noted, however, that the Center for Public Integrity, which did the list back in 2008, in November gave state government an F, ranking 41st in the nation, not so much for the laws Jindal pushed but for the lack of enforcement in the systems that deter corruption in state government.)
Maybe it’s because the year is at an end, but all sorts of groups have been releasing their rankings, and Louisiana continues to fare poorly.
A survey released Monday looked at employment statistics, wages and incarceration rates, then compared the numbers between white people and black people. The calculation’s result found that Louisiana is the 10th worst state for African-Americans to live in.
Louisiana has the nation’s highest violent crime rate at 514.7 incidents per 100,000 residents, much higher than the national rate of 356.5 incidents. Only 22.9 percent of adults have at least a bachelor’s degree in Louisiana, as opposed to 30.1 percent of adults nationwide.
“I look at the lists that matter,” Jindal said in an interview Thursday. “We’re higher in every major business ranking than we’ve ever been before.”
Total paid wages have risen 4.7 percent.
Louisiana ranked fourth in Kiplinger’s 10 Most Tax-Friendly States. Property taxes, for instance, are the third-lowest in the nation. At 20 cents per gallon, Louisiana’s gasoline tax is well below the national average of 30 cents.
Louisiana is No. 4 on a top state business climate list. And the state ranked second in the nation for its business incentive programs.
“When you look at the objective data, we have done well compared to where we were before,” Jindal said, adding that economic development created opportunities for Louisiana.
He is winding down his term as governor. John Bel Edwards takes over in four weeks after winning a campaign that centered largely on Jindal’s perceived failings.
Earlier this month, 24/7 Wall Street, an online financial news service, ranked Louisiana as the eighth “worst-run state government in America,” after reviewing a wide range of statistics and indexes.
The same group used quality-of-life data — income levels, crime rates, educational attainments, access to health care, etc. — in its calculation, and the results emerged that Louisiana ranked behind only Mississippi and West Virginia as the worst state to live in.
There’s always been a disconnect about how Louisiana could be considered such a dismal place to live, particularly during the holiday season when we have nice weather, family gatherings, bonfires and Reveillon feasts.
But pseudo-scientific polls plug objective statistics into their formulas. And one factor always drags down Louisiana’s score: the state’s nearly nation-leading poverty rate.
One in five residents falls under the federal government’s official rate, but about half the residents are hovering near that line. The typical Louisiana household brings in an average $44,164 per year. That’s the eighth lowest in the country and compares poorly with the nation’s $51,939 median household income.
Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor, already accounts for roughly a third of the state’s $25 billion budget. And if Medicaid rolls included, as the federal government wants, the working poor, who are not poverty-stricken but near-so, then almost half the state would be on Medicaid.
The other half still feels the drag of poverty, even beyond its impact on lists. For instance, the average Louisiana home is worth $143,600, which is well below the national median home value of $181,200.
At the start of his administration, Jindal embraced the conservative bromide that more jobs and better education, alone, would lift the poor. But poverty rates have increased under Jindal’s watch.
The “get a job, get a life” plan sounds good and may well work one day, but Louisiana’s position at the bottom of a bunch of these lists shows little has changed.
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com, and he is on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/