Commentary: Don’t Blame Jindal for Budget Crisis

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Lately, “draconian” appears to be the mot juste for Governor Jindal’s widely-contested budget cuts. In his weekly Gambit column, for example, Clancy Dubos writes, “Consider, for example, the governor’s draconian cuts to higher education…,” and then lists a litany of budget cuts to academic and cultural programs. Dubos goes on to impugn Jindal as “one of the biggest destroyers of all,” alongside BP.

These budgetary measures taken by Governor Jindal are not draconian, however. They are pragmatic, and unfortunately, unavoidable. If one is looking for someone to blame, don’t blame the Governor, blame those dysfunctional state and municipal government appendages which siphon away and waste state funds which otherwise could help our state universities and hospitals.

Until this legislative session, for instance, the retire/rehire policy of Louisiana public schools allowed for millions of taxpayer dollars to be wasted. Public school employees were until recently able to retire and then be rehired in a different position, all the while receiving benefits and pensions for both jobs, as well as their new salary. Fortunately, HB 519 by Rep. Page Cortez did away with this loophole, but the public school system remains a chief culprit for wasteful spending in its unsustainable pensions.

Likewise, the House shot down HB 224, which would have prohibited public employees convicted of a job-related felony from receiving retirement benefits while incarcerated. That means less money is available to sustain Dubos’s cherished cultural and art programs because it is going to those incarcerated for dereliction of their duties.

Or recognize the general fact that Louisiana has one of the highest per capita public/state employee sectors, doling out millions every year for bureaucratic divisions such as the Crescent City Connection Division and its unnecessary police force. The entire legislature, for that matter, deserves blame for its adoption of amendments to the budget bill (HB 76) which earmark $30 million in ancillary pet projects. That is $30 million dollars redirected from UNO and LSU to cattle fences and selected non-profits.

Indicting Gov. Jindal of “draconian” actions indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the political culture of our state. The Governor is not perfect, but responsibility for these austere measures lies with the framework of our state government. Instead of being able to fully fund quality universities and hospitals, our government is hostage to thousands of superfluous public employees and offices which impede economic development. More so, some legislators are guilty of engaging in pork-barrel politics which throw our most important institutions under the bus in favor of voter-friendly pet projects. Clancy Dubos and other critics of Jindal be advised; our budget shortfall is the result of a systemic flaw, not a personal one.

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