Louisiana Democrats call on Bobby Jindal: Come home to fix budget _lowres

Associated Press file photo by Charlie Neibergall -- Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks August 2014 during The Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa.

Louisiana Democrats have slammed Gov. Bobby Jindal for focusing on non-state issues and are calling on him to spend more time in Louisiana to help solve the state’s budget crisis.

“We need him here in the state of Louisiana,” state Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday morning. “I’m hoping and praying he will say to himself, ‘I have a responsibility, and it’s to be held accountable to the citizens of Louisiana.’ ”

A recent analysis from The Advocate found Jindal had spent nearly half of 2014 outside of the state. Jindal, who is considering a run for president in 2016, continues to travel this week as his administration prepares to release its proposal for the coming fiscal year. He’ll return to Baton Rouge from an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday — the day before his budget recommendation is released.

This weekend, he’s slated to participate in a secretive meeting of the Club for Growth in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to the Miami Herald, that meeting will be open only to invited media.

The Jindal’s administration’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 could include up to a $500 million hit to higher education funding and further cuts to health care. The state is bracing for a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that the Legislative Fiscal Office has attributed to the budget’s reliance on one-time money in recent years.

The Democrats offered no concrete proposals or ideas for solving the budget gap, but state Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, and others said the governor has been unavailable to work with lawmakers to develop a plan.

“We’re not the only group of legislators who have been calling on him to stay in the state, take our calls and take care of this budget crisis,” she said.

Jindal spokesman Mike Reed denied that characterization on Wednesday.

“Gov. Jindal has met with Legislative leaders involved in the budget process several times over the past few weeks, and he has been working closely with the Division of Administration on finalizing the budget proposal,” Reed said. “On Friday, as we have done every year, we will present a balanced budget that does not raise taxes, makes government live within its means and invests in key priorities while protecting higher education and health care.”

Jason Doré, executive director of the Louisiana GOP, also disputed the Democrats’ claims.

“Under Gov. Jindal, Louisiana has been a shining example of what can happen under conservative governance,” he said in a statement. “We have more people living and working in Louisiana, with higher incomes, than ever before in our history. Gov. Jindal has greatly reduced the size of our state government, cut taxes and balanced the budget every single year.”

The 2015 legislative session begins April 13, and lawmakers will spend the next several weeks crafting a final budget for the next fiscal year.

Jindal has spent much of this week writing op-eds and making televised appearances questioning whether President Barack Obama is unfit to serve as commander-in-chief based on his handling of foreign policy and the Islamic State in the Middle East.

Several of the Democratic lawmakers attempted to turn that around on Jindal, questioning his leadership as governor.

“It’s not even a question of unfit — It’s more of whether he’s (Jindal’s) just unwilling,” said state Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge. “I believe Louisiana is in the governor’s rear view.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic state House members said that they are working across party lines to try to come up with ways to close the budget gap, in particular, reviewing refundable tax credits and tax exemptions.

“Right now, we’re looking at every avenue that we can to bring money back into this state,” said Jackson.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .