It's been interesting to watch Gov. Bobby Jindal rail against the federal government for not doing enough to contain, cap and clean up the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Jindal, a Republican and champion of smaller government, daily calls upon President Barack Obama and the feds to do more, more, more.
Jindal makes a good argument for bigger government, albeit reluctantly — and he would never admit that bigger government is what he's promoting.
Still, one of the sharpest arrows in his rhetorical quiver is the claim (best articulated by Democratic consultant James Carville) that the BP debacle threatens not only our economy and our environment but also our way of life and an entire culture. He's absolutely right on all counts.
All of which presents another quandary for Jindal, whose executive budget as presented to lawmakers earlier this year does more long-term damage to "culture" across Louisiana than the BP disaster. I'm not exaggerating.
Consider, for example, the governor's draconian cuts to higher education — more than $250 million over the past 18 months. No university has been spared. LSU, the state's flagship, has announced it may shut down the T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History (Williams wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Huey Long) and the United States Civil War Center. In addition, literary icons like LSU Press (publisher of the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Confederacy of Dunces) and the Southern Review (one of the nation's most respected literary journals) have taken huge budget hits in the past year and a half.
"We are truly in uncharted waters," wrote LSU Chancellor Michael Martin. "There is no record in LSU's history that compares to the financial conditions we now face."
Locally, UNO has been cut $14.5 million in the current fiscal year, and its future was uncertain going into the final days of the session.
Consider also the cuts that Jindal's executive budget, as submitted to lawmakers, will bring to the arts:
• $3 million cut from arts and cultural organizations statewide, including grants and direct funding to arts and cultural organizations. That money helps sustain local symphonies, ballets, museums, theaters, festivals, arts councils and artists all over Louisiana.
• $2 million cut from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, leaving LEH with zero state support. In past years, state funding has comprised up to 40 percent of LEH's budget. LEH provides $4 million in grants and funds family and adult literacy programs, teacher professional development seminars, and many discussion programs. LEH also is the major source of documentary film funding in Louisiana and has pending $17 million in federal grant requests which will require a local match of 20 percent. All of that will be gone.
• Over a two-year period, more than $410,000 in cuts to the Arts Council of New Orleans, which serves Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes.
• Deep cuts to the Division of the Arts and the State Library, which already has canceled the annual Louisiana Festival of the Book — which, ironically, is held every year inside the state Capitol, making it perhaps the only occasion that Louisiana's best minds actually fill the state's marbled halls of power.
No doubt Jindal will say that he did not single out any of the arts and cultural organizations for elimination. He will maintain steadfastly he is simply trying to cut waste and fat out of state government.
If Jindal truly believes that arts and culture are waste or fat, he should say so. If not, he should not idly stand by and let them become collateral damage in his budget wars.
Otherwise, the next time you see Jindal railing against the feds and BP about the destruction of our culture, remember that he's one of the biggest destroyers of all.