During Gov. Bobby Jindal’s two terms, the State Capitol has been full of budget gimmicks and accounting games to disguise the problems created by the administration’s reckless financial policies.
But don’t worry, America, Jindal proposes to do the same for Washington, D.C.
The governor is signing on, again, to a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” from a Washington lobbying group, Americans for Tax Reform. While it sounds good, we know from bitter experience just how unreformed can be budgets based on an anti-tax theology interpreted by ATR founder Grover Norquist.
“Gov. Jindal understands that government should be reformed so that it takes and spends less of the taxpayers’ money, and will oppose tax increases that paper over and continue the failures of the past,” Norquist said, as Jindal signed the pledge for his presidential run.
Behind the fine phrases stands a bankrupt philosophy, that government can cut taxes and, thus, reduce its revenues without regard to balancing the books. When the political consequences of theology become clear, officeholders are prone to resort to gimmicks and accounting tricks to allow spending without responsibility for the revenue stream of government.
This became profoundly obvious just this spring, when the Legislature was strong-armed by Jindal and college presidents into passing a fake “fee” on tuition. The fee exists not because it brings in new revenue — Norquist forbid! — but because it can be written off with a ghost tax credit. That exchange of fake fee with ghost credit is then, by Norquist’s blessing, a tax cut that can offset revenue increases elsewhere in the budget.
It is like the corrupt churches of the Middle Ages selling absolution to sinners. It’s bad theology and bad government.
Thousands of Louisiana families with children going to college never saw the fake fee, because it’s a pure accounting game for Norquist budgetary philosophy.
This is the least conservative approach to budgeting that we can imagine, but it is symptomatic of what has been wrong with Jindal’s approach to Louisiana government as a stepping-stone to higher office, a place to parade his commitment to folks like Norquist who are thought to be influential in the GOP nominating process.
Jindal has raised taxes and fees more than he is willing to admit, but not enough to offset tax cuts and breaks for favored industries. Recurring budget gaps and midyear budget emergencies are the result. A governor with the intellectual honesty to balance the budget for real has been AWOL in the State Capitol for two terms.
Nor does it speak well of anyone’s leadership qualities that they would sign away their actions in advance to a Washington lobbyist whose influence in Louisiana has been malign.