Thirty-five years ago, then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan asked American voters, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Louisiana voters should ask themselves a similar question as they approach this year's race for governor: Is Louisiana better off than it was eight years ago? On the matter of fiscal stability, the answer is a resounding "No!" — thanks to the policies of absentee Gov. Bobby Jindal.
As a candidate, Jindal pledged never to use one-time money to pay for recurring state expenses. He lied. In his first year, he spent the $1 billion surplus that former Gov. Kathleen Blanco left him. In every subsequent year, he used one-time revenues to cover recurring state expenses — often in larger and larger increments.
Jindal put the state in such a deep hole that this past spring he had to resort to Orwellian doublespeak by forcing lawmakers to pass the so-called SAVE Act, which purportedly let him claim that he balanced the budget without a tax increase. Only in Jindal's mind and La-La Land is that the case. In truth, Jindal and lawmakers raised taxes and fees by $767 million. Louisiana voters aren't fooled — nor are those in Iowa and New Hampshire, where Jindal's delusional presidential campaign remains stuck below 2 percent.
Meanwhile, we recently learned that $767 million in tax and fee hikes still won't get Louisiana through the first half of the current fiscal year. Already the Jindal administration has had to recommend $4.6 million in mid-year budget cuts, most of which fell on public higher education. More mid-year cuts are likely as the price of oil hovers near $40 a barrel. The Jindal budget pegged oil at $62 a barrel.
It gets worse. Louisiana's popular TOPS college scholarship program is $19 million short, and the state's Medicaid program has a whopping $335 million budget gap — because Jindal's budget didn't account for increased spending across various programs. Team Jindal's official response to all this bad news is to hope that state revenue forecasts improve. They won't.
In fact, in future years Louisiana's structural deficit will grow exponentially. It is forecast to exceed $700 million in Fiscal Year 2017 (which begins July 1, 2016), and by FY2019 it's expected to reach $1.9 billion. That is Bobby Jindal's legacy. His current strategy is to stay the hell out of Louisiana and try to postpone additional cuts until he's officially out of office — leaving the next governor and Legislature with a colossal mess.
Every candidate for governor pledges to call a special session to fix the mess that Jindal is leaving. At the current rate, it will take one session just to deal with this fiscal year's problems — and probably another to deal with the long-term issues that Jindal refused to address as governor.
Clearly, Louisiana is much worse off than it was eight years ago.
As voters evaluate the candidates for governor, they should ask themselves not only whether Louisiana is better off after eight years of Jindal, but also which candidate seems mostly likely to follow the same destructive path that he blazed — and which is most likely to chart a new course of fiscal responsibility.