As Gov. Bobby Jindal continues his delusional quest for the GOP presidential nomination, real fiscal problems continue to mount for Louisiana. Last week Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics.com reported that the state ended the last fiscal year with a deficit that state Treasurer John Kennedy estimated at "well over $100 million." The state's fiscal year begins every July 1, and already the state is on track to be at least another $319 million in the hole for the current fiscal year — and that's before factoring in low oil prices, which compound the problem. All of this after lawmakers and Jindal used a smoke-and-mirrors budget last spring to raise more than $700 million in taxes and fees.
Can there be any doubt that Bobby Jindal's fiscal mismanagement, and his disingenuous assertions that he has balanced the state budget every year, make him the worst governor in Louisiana history? His legacy will be one of destruction — to public hospitals, public universities and state highways and other infrastructure. He also has made a mockery of "transparency" and ethics administration.
Anyone who mismanages his state as badly as Bobby Jindal has done should never be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.
But let's get back to the topic of Louisiana's finances. Last year's deficit won't be official for another six months or so, and no doubt Jindal will try to paper over it (or pretend it doesn't exist), as he did with last year's deficit. He should not be allowed to do so; in fact, a final-year deficit will be a fitting end to Jindal's sorry tenure as governor. Lest anyone doubt this gloomy view, Moody's Investors Service last year said pointedly that Louisiana has a "structural deficit," meaning we have built-in constitutional and statutory provisions that render our budget virtually unmanageable given our current tax structure.
This fiscal year's budget problem stems mostly from Louisiana's Medicaid program, with additional gaps related to TOPS scholarships and low oil prices. By the time the new governor takes office, the state easily could face a half-billion-dollar budget hole in the current fiscal year. Then, of course, there's our "structural" deficit problem, which will require constitutional and statutory changes that will take time (and unprecedented political courage) to implement.
Two things need to happen now to stave off disaster. First, Jindal needs to return to Louisiana (if he still considers this state his home) and propose immediate steps to cover last year's deficit and reduce the current year's shortfall. And let's be clear: Further cuts to higher education and health care are not "solutions." Not even temporarily. If he fails to do this, Jindal will seal his fate as a failed presidential aspirant not just this season but forever. Anyone who mismanages his state as badly as Jindal has done should never be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Running away from the problem — or pretending it doesn't exist — is not an option.
Second, every candidate for governor needs to step up and propose short-term and long-range solutions to the mess Jindal leaves behind. The next four years loom as painful times for Louisiana taxpayers, and voters need to hear real solutions — not rhetoric — before Election Day. Anything short of that will be a continuation of the Jindal legacy. Louisiana deserves better than that.