It’s not fair to say that the wheels have already come off of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget proposals, but it is pretty clear that the ride is getting bumpy. Already.
A significant part of the governor’s plan for filling the budget holes involves ending a major credit for inventory taxes paid by businesses to local government; the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, among other influential lobbies, is already calling that a tax increase, and the convoluted arguments from Jindal aides about why it is not an increase aren’t getting good reviews even in the conservative blogs.
Nor is the elaborate machinery that Jindal has suggested to raise an “excellence fee” for universities, and then creating a new tax break that — down the pike, somewhere — would repay parents and students the cost. As conservative blogger Jeff Sadow commented, this is a rigmarole compared to simply addressing part of the shortfall by increasing tuition, again.
Simplicity is something Jindal apparently isn’t that good at.
Nor is he that good at the math, to hear some people tell it. Louisiana has built a $1.1 billion medical teaching hospital in New Orleans, but the manager of the soon-to-be-opened University Medical Center says Jindal’s budget leaves it millions short of operating cash.
Statewide, private operators of the state-owned hospitals previously run by LSU asked for $142 million more than Jindal proposed to spend on them in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Nearly $88 million of that was for the hospital in New Orleans, which will shift services from an interim facility to the larger, new hospital this summer.
Another dispute is going to arise over education funding. Jindal proposed an increase because of a rise in school enrollments. State educators are pushing a modest bit more because of other shortfalls.
As the state’s superintendent of education, John White, said, discussion of the school formula in March is the start of a process. That’s true of the budget as a whole before lawmakers come to Baton Rouge in mid-April.
Over the coming weeks, legislators will have to apply themselves to a lot of the glitches and gaps in the Jindal budget proposals. Just sorting out what’s realistic and what is gubernatorial persiflage is going to take a while.
One thing we’re sure of: The problems that Jindal has baked into his earlier budgets remain in this one. The reliance on one-time money for annual operating expenses defies common sense. The endless shifting and borrowing from various funds, including hurricane recovery funds moved to colleges and universities, raises questions about how legitimate the Jindal budget numbers are. And there is no question that the state faces “structural” deficits that the governor simply ignores, because of political deficits and a time and attention deficit of a proto-candidacy for president.
A bumpy ride in March can only get bumpier in April.