On the Road, Again

by Jeremy Alford

From North Carolina to Winnfield, Gov. Bobby Jindal is putting distance between himself and an ailing state government. As an unprecedented $2 billion shortfall eats away at health care and higher education while state government braces for lockdown, Gov. Bobby Jindal has found a new way to address tough challenges — hitting the road. It’s a sad day when, as Rome burns, the only thing you see of the emperor is his derriere as he high-tails it out of town, but such is the case. Consider his recent schedule:

Friday, Jan. 30 — Jindal spent the first part of his day at the Rapides Parish Courthouse discussing his legislative priorities for cracking down on sex offenders. While that’s a worthy cause, the governor knows he doesn’t need to beat this drum. Is anyone rising to the defense of sex offenders? Of course not.

It’s a PR move, a distraction. Later that day, Jindal held a town hall meeting, or rather met with business interests, inside a warehouse in Thornwell, just outside Lake Arthur. Jindal has conducted at least one of these gatherings each week since being elected. In a way, they’re an extension of his campaign. Only this time, it’s about 2011 and not 2007.

Meanwhile, that same day, Dow Chemical announced the elimination of 260 high-paying chemical jobs in Plaquemine and Hahnville. The layoffs will quicken the pace of the recession in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Tuesday, Feb. 3 — The governor traveled to Winnfield and Jena to announce homeland security funding for Winn and LaSalle parishes. While it’s wonderful that Jindal is willing to attend ceremonial, ribbon-cutting announcements in person, there’s got to be a cabinet official or lackey capable of shaking hands and posing for pictures in times such as these.

Back home in Baton Rouge, news broke that the state ethics board — the agency whose authority Jindal trimmed last year, but now he’s protecting it from budget cuts — is paying a consulting firm $250 an hour to help with “strategic planning and staff reorganization.” The maximum payout, according to a contract inked in 2007, was to be $10,000. On this day, the total was doubled to $20,000. Apparently Jindal couldn’t find anyone in the belly of state government to do the job.

Wednesday, Feb. 4 — In an effort to raise his national profile to help him not run for president, Jindal traveled to North Carolina for a campaign fund-raiser “in support of his gubernatorial re-election campaign.” The Shaw Group Inc., a Baton Rouge-based Fortune 500 company and a frequent political player, served as host. Jindal also delivered the keynote address at the John Locke Foundation’s Annual Dinner that evening.

While Jindal was in another state, Louisiana officials unveiled plans to raid a special transportation fund to the tune of $750 million to help pay for a package of roads and bridges voters approved more than 20 years ago. The lapsed projects are part of an initiative known as the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, or TIMED. It appears state officials had a small problem projecting construction costs. Originally thought to cost the state $1.4 billion, the most recent tally is now $5.2 billion.

Thursday, Feb. 5 — Back on the trail of sex offenders, Jindal traveled to Monroe and Lafayette to tout his legislative priority.

Friday, Feb. 6 — Jindal flew to Arkansas for a weekend’s gorging of fund-raisers with Wal-Mart and Tyson executives. On the same day, the Louisiana chemical industry announced more job cuts could be coming stateside, and the Louisiana Child Poverty Prevention Council met in Baton Rouge to recommend new laws.

Saturday, Feb. 7 — Jindal spoke at the Washington County Lincoln Day Dinner in Springdale. Back in Louisiana, communities around the state observed National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day — without Jindal — by hosting various events, including free tests and other state-supported services.

Finally back in the Bayou State this week, the governor kicked off Monday by touring the barracks at Fort Polk and visiting the Lake Charles courthouse to — once again — highlight his legislative priorities for cracking down on sex offenders. This, on the day before a subcommittee of the House Appropriations begins reviewing the salaries and expenses of a half-dozen state agencies, including Jindal’s own branch.

No doubt Jindal’s travels can benefit Louisiana. But can’t feel-good victory laps wait until he plugs the state budget’s $2 billion hole? So far, his ideas look no different from those of previous governors.

Granted, some of his accountability measures are new to the process, but the ranges of cuts Jindal has sent to each agency look like recycled across-the-board cuts — with higher education and health care shouldering the burden, as usual. Shades of Edwin Edwards, minus the jokes.

If Jindal doesn’t make some dramatic (and effective) moves soon, he may have all the time he wants to move about the country — after the next election. But not on taxpayers’ dime