Ash Wednesday officially begins the season of austerity for Christians, but that season began long ago for those wrestling with Louisiana's mounting budget deficits. For them, there's little hope of things getting better by Easter Sunday. In fact, state lawmakers don't convene for their annual session until eight days after Easter.
Weeks before then, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee will have to trim some $103 million from the current fiscal year's budget. That's just the opening act. When lawmakers begin their annual session April 13, the main attraction will be the state's projected $1.6 billion (and growing) deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Things aren't hopeless everywhere in state government, however. Gov. Bobby Jindal's office is only going to have to cut expenses by $10,000 this fiscal year. At least, that's the proposal put forth by the Jindal administration. All other statewide elected officials, meanwhile, face cuts in the millions between now and June 30.
Put another way, Team Jindal says it should cut its own expenses by less than one-tenth of one percent of its annual budget to help trim $103 million in the current fiscal year — but other departments (like Insurance and Agriculture, for starters) should have to cut by 3 or 4 percent.
Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain put it best when he noted that statewide elected officials' departments (excluding the Governor's Office) collectively account for less than 1 percent of the state's $25 billion annual operating budget, but Jindal wants them to bear 16 percent of the cuts between now and June 30.
Jindal's plan for keeping the current year's budget in balance is, in essence, 'Do as I say, not as I do.'
Jindal's contribution to the effort, meanwhile, is a paltry $10,000.
You read that right. Bobby Jindal's plan for keeping the current year's budget in balance is, in essence, "Do as I say, not as I do."
That should surprise no one who has been watching Jindal for the past seven years. The man's hypocrisy knows no limits.
"Clearly, the disproportionate cuts are on the statewide elected officials. All you have to do is look at the numbers," Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne told the Associated Press. "It seems out of whack."
That's putting it mildly. Jindal proposes laying off no one on his team, but statewide elected officials who run critical departments will have to lay off hundreds of employees and furlough scores more.
Jindal flack Mike Reed, aping his boss, dryly observed that Team Jindal's share of the cuts is "in line with other offices."
Really? What line might that be? Or rather, in what universe does one-tenth of 1 percent even remotely equal 3 percent or 4 percent?
As whoppers go, that ranks right up there with Jindal's meme that next year's $1.6 billion deficit — which Moody's Investors Service terms a "structural deficit" — is basically a byproduct of falling oil prices, not Jindal's mindless fiscal mismanagement. That claim is so fraudulent and so easily disproved that it qualifies Jindal as a modern practitioner of The Big Lie.
If state lawmakers had any backbone at all, they would reject Jindal's proposed mid-year cuts and instead balance the books themselves, starting with the governor's travel budget. Cut that one altogether — including the use of taxpayer money to pay for State Police bodyguards' salaries and expenses on Jindal's many out-of-state jaunts. In addition, they should insist that whatever layoffs occur in other statewide officials' departments should be apportioned to the governor's office as well.
Throughout his tenure, Jindal has consistently — and callously — spread the pain among others. Isn't it time he got a dose of his own medicine?