Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Lafayette Wednesday where he’ll tour University Hospital & Clinics, formerly University Medical Center, which, through a public-private partnership was taken over by Lafayette General Medical Center. Those public-private partnerships are one of the things Jindal is touting on his farewell tour as he tries to sell Louisiana — and perhaps himself — on the idea that he was a competent steward of the Bayou State for eight years.
Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco isn’t buying it.
In a lengthy interview with this reporter at her Lafayette home in August ahead of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Blanco recalled meeting with Jindal in late 2007 while she was still governor and he was governor-elect — between election and inauguration for his first term in office.
“I gave him one bit of free advice, which he ignored. And that’s why we have such a financial disaster,” Blanco recalled with a laugh, saying she told the incoming governor, “‘In the Louisiana Legislature there’s not a tax break that every single member, whether they’re Democrat or Republican or independent, doesn’t absolutely love. So here in the state of Louisiana you have to stay close during the session and watch what’s going on and stop the erosion of the tax base.’
“And I told him that I had just vetoed six tax breaks in my last session. I could have signed off on them and left him a disastrous financial picture. Our budget was balanced. We had a lot of money. But I vetoed those tax breaks because they affected the ongoing operations of government.”
But Jindal and the Legislature, in his first year in office, went after the Stelly Plan that had raised income taxes on higher-income families while repealing sales taxes on a list of products — twin measures meant to generate revenue while reducing the tax burden on working families who spend a higher percentage of their income on groceries and household products.
The Legislature repealed the tax increases but chose not to re-instate the sales taxes and, voila!, hundreds of millions in tax dollars — $600 million-plus — suddenly vanished from the state’s recurring revenue.
“I left him a $1 billion surplus in addition to a perfectly balanced budget,” Blanco said. “And we had also stashed lots of money.”
Those pots of money were raided by the Jindal administration and his water carriers in the Legislature over the intervening years as budget shortfalls cascaded into budget crises, leading to debilitating cuts to higher education and state health care services, hence Jindal’s drive to privatize as many functions of government as possible during his tenure.
But Jindal didn’t just oversee the dismantling of the Stelly Plan and its attendant plunge in revenue for the state budget, he actually increased spending, in large part through generous tax breaks and other incentives to corporations.
“Any governor of the past had only let government grow about $300 million a year, and that was to take care of inflationary costs primarily and leave you a little something extra to do something you wanted to do. Mine was early childhood education — I just wanted to invest a little bit more in children who were 3 and 4 years old and who needed to be in a better educational environment than they were in,” Blanco noted. “He allowed the expenditures to grow by $1 billion that first year for recurring expenditures, and he allowed over $600 million in tax breaks. Some of those tax breaks — all the tax breaks that I had vetoed — he signed and more."
Columnist Robert Mann wrote an excellent piece for nola.com last week, “Bobby Jindal’s ghostly ‘accomplishments’,” excoriating Jindal for his brazen attempt to rewrite the history of his two terms in office:
Never mind that the state’s fiscal affairs are a catastrophe and only getting worse. Forget that Jindal abandoned us for two years while he waged an inept campaign for president. Please don’t note that under his watch college tuition skyrocketed and the state’s universities were almost shuttered. Ignore the legions of working poor he denied health care. Overlook that we still have crumbling roads and bridges and endure some of the nation’s worst crime and deepest poverty.
For Blanco, a seasoned politician who worked her way up from the Legislature through the Public Service Commission to lieutenant governor and finally the highest elected seat in Louisiana, state lawmakers’ zeal for cutting taxes and Jindal’s zeal for Jindal were a toxic combination.
“He allowed the expenditures to grow by $1 billion that first year for recurring expenditures, and he allowed over $600 million in tax breaks.”
“He didn’t guard the public trust. He didn’t have enough courage to veto — and some of those people, both Democrats and Republicans, were testing him,” Blanco said. “They were playing with him when they went after the Stelly tax cut to take the whole thing down. They thought he would veto it, and I told them, ‘You are wrong.’ I said, ‘This governor will never veto a tax cut; he’s going to sign every one, and you’re digging yourselves into a hole that you’re not going to be able to get out of.’ And that’s exactly what they did.”