In any state budget crisis, citizens and lawmakers would expect the governor to be working hard to figure out ways to raise money or responsibly trim the sails of government, or both. That's what real governors do. Unfortunately, Louisiana's budget gap for the 2015-2016 fiscal year dwarfs any that has come before it — $1.4 billion and growing. And while Gov. Bobby Jindal is indeed figuring out ways to scare up large sums of money, he's not doing it for the state. He's doing it for himself.
If anyone doubted Louisiana is just a glimmer in Jindal's rear-view mirror, the governor's recent 10-day trip to Europe put that to rest. Billed as an economic development tour, Jindal's jaunt — much of which was underwritten by taxpayers — was little more than a political ego trip designed to give the governor some foreign policy cred. By the end of the trip, Jindal did little more than embarrass himself and Louisiana on an international stage.
And all the while, Louisiana's budget nightmare grows worse — with no sign of leadership from Jindal.
The shameless self-promoter who in 2012 urged the GOP to stop being "the stupid party" apparently has dropped that meme. Nowadays, Jindal rushes in with jingoistic fervor, warning that radical Muslims have established "no-go zones" in England, where, he claims, Islamic law trumps the law of the United Kingdom.
The British unquestionably would know about such a thing without the help of a laughable wannabe from Baton Rouge. They showed characteristic restraint toward the governor but did not hesitate to unload on Steven Emerson, a Fox News "expert" who had asserted that the city of Birmingham — the second-largest city in England — is now "totally Muslim." British Prime Minister David Cameron rightly called Emerson "a complete idiot." (Many felt the PM's comment applied equally to Jindal.) Emerson retracted the claim, and Fox, which is not known for a slavish devotion to accuracy, apologized on the air — four times.
All that happened before Louisiana's foreign policy expert made his own "no-go zone" claim — and then doubled down in the days that followed. So what does Jindal know about the UK that its Prime Minister doesn't? Asked for examples of no-go zones, Jindal couldn't cite even one, but he insisted, "I knew that by speaking the truth we were going to make people upset."
Jindal has run a deficit virtually every year he has been in office.
Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post summed up Jindal's desperate ploy: "He is struggling for political oxygen in a Republican field that includes (or might include) the likes of Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. So, how do you solve that problem? Throw red meat to the Republican base while simultaneously trolling the left."
Actually, there's more to it than that. Jindal also used the controversy that followed his speech as a fundraising gimmick (citing the tired trope that he was being picked on by the "liberal media"). Jindal's political action committee (PAC), Stand Up to Washington, quickly fired off an email urging recipients to "tell the liberal media to stop their shameless attacks against Governor Jindal for telling the truth about radical Islam." People who filled out the meaningless "petition" were immediately hit with a donation request for Jindal's PAC.
If anyone needs money, it's Louisiana, not Bobby Jindal. The governor has spent his entire tenure playing a shell game with state budgets, consistently using one-time funds to cover annual expenditures — all in a vain effort to obscure the fact that his administration has run a deficit virtually every year he has been in office. Now there are literally no more pots of money to razoo, and next fiscal year's projected revenue shortfall is larger than ever at $1.4 billion. With falling oil prices, that figure could easily grow significantly larger.
Truth is, this self-created budget crisis presents Jindal with an opportunity to show his fiscal chops and burnish his reputation as a skillful chief executive. That, however, would require uncharacteristic boldness, leadership and integrity. No one, not even Jindal's one-time GOP allies in the Legislature, expects that from him. Instead, he's sitting on his hands (except when he extends a hand, palm up, to solicit political contributions), hoping lawmakers will make the tough decisions — after which he'll either take credit for keeping state colleges open — or blame lawmakers for closing them.
When it comes to boldness, leadership and integrity, Jindal is a "no-go" zone.