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Bobby Jindal’s Priorities

Guess who’s not in Baton Rouge today?:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Washington Monday to unveil a series of education reforms as part of his 2016 presidential preparations. But his proposals call for scaling back Washington’s role in education while promoting increased parental choice for children’s schools, better measures to assess teacher performance, and more autonomy for individual schools over their own operations.

Most notably, Jindal will reiterate his opposition to Common Core—a not-too-subtle rebuke of GOP presidential front-runner Jeb Bush’s support for the educational standards that were once widely supported by most governors of both parties (including Jindal). Without mentioning Bush by name, Jindal told National Journal that “there’s a belief among some that don’t trust the states, they don’t trust parents, [it’s] this belief that a centralized elite knows better” by supporting Common Core.

Through his policy-focused nonprofit AmericaNext, Jindal will be delivering his education proposals at a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast Monday morning, speaking at an educational forum hosted by South Carolina GOP Sen. Tim Scott and meeting with conservative writers to discuss the plan at the Heritage Foundation. He has previously released detailed policy papers on health care, foreign policy, and energy.

Here’s a link to the details of his plan. I’m not well-versed enough in education policy to have an informed opinion on Common Core, though I’m sure Ryan Booth has a few things to say about the governor’s Washington trip. I would just like to point out, in that mean way of mine, that there are severe, urgent budget problems back home that would benefit from Gov. Jindal’s hands-on engagement. Such as:

Widespread layoffs, hundreds of classes eliminated, academic programs jettisoned and a flagship university that can’t compete with its peers around the nation — those are among the grim scenarios LSU leaders outlined in internal documents as the threat of budget cuts looms.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is considering deep budget slashing to higher education for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to help close a $1.6 billion shortfall.

LSU campuses from Shreveport to New Orleans were asked to explain how a reduction between 35 percent and 40 percent in state financing — about $141.5 million to the university system — would affect their operations. The documents, compiled for LSU system President F. King Alexander, were obtained through a public records request.

The potential implications of such hefty cuts were summed up in stark terms: 1,433 faculty and staff jobs eliminated; 1,572 courses cut; 28 academic programs shut down across campuses; and six institutions declaring some form of financial emergency.


At least five agricultural research stations and the parish-based extension program run by the LSU Agricultural Center would be shuttered, in a state where agriculture is one of the largest industries, according to the documents.

The university system’s well-known research institute, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said cuts of the magnitude proposed would force it to cut 191 jobs, suspend some of its work on chronic diseases and mothball 48 percent of its valuable research space.

Executive Director William Cefalu said scientists would leave, taking their research and grant dollars with them, worsening the impact of the cuts.

Yes, it’s true, the state higher education system, with small colleges all over the state, is unsustainable, and the legislature does not have the political will to close the weakest colleges and consolidate resources. But Gov. Jindal ought to be here leading the way.

He also ought to explain how his absence of leadership allowed Louisiana to become a champion in corporate welfare, while presiding over the steady degradation of the state’s higher education system. From the Baton Rouge Advocate‘s remarkable series on the state’s tax giveaway policy:

When the Legislature convenes next year, an even bigger shortfall of as much as $1.4 billion is expected. Many legislators, including Republicans overseeing key financial committees, speak of a “structural deficit” of at least $600 million that they trace in large part to the growing giveaways. Because the programs are built into the law, they don’t have to compete for funding with other state services: The state just pays the tab, whatever it is.

Indeed, Louisiana’s incentive programs are viewed with increasing bipartisan skepticism.

Liberals have long complained that the giveaways divert money from programs that help the poor and middle class, directing it instead into corporate coffers. Conservatives are uncomfortable with the state picking winners rather than letting private enterprise sort things out in the marketplace. An alternative would be to simply let taxpayers keep more of their money. And many members of both parties think the cuts, especially to higher education, have gone too far.

Still, the programs have proven difficult to corral, in part because Jindal — who holds considerable sway over the Legislature — has pledged not to raise taxes in any form. According to the rules of the pledge, promulgated by the powerful group Americans for Tax Reform, any legislative action that increases revenue to the state constitutes a tax increase, even if the action simply gets rid of a costly giveaway. Jindal responded to requests for an interview for this story by issuing a written statement saying his administration’s policies have led to economic and population growth, and that the state should not seek to increase revenues.

Jindal’s fealty to the anti-tax pledge may have helped keep his presidential ambitions alive, but it hasn’t necessarily made the business world see Louisiana as a tax paradise. Though some surveys put the Pelican State’s actual tax burden among the five lowest in the country, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation recently ranked Louisiana No. 35 among the states with the best tax climates for business.

It’s not hard to see why.

“States are punished for overly complex, burdensome and economically harmful tax codes but are rewarded for transparent and neutral tax codes that do not distort business decisions,” the group said in a news release.

With more than 450 tax breaks enshrined in state law, some of them massive, Louisiana undeniably fails that test.

“Why does the government get to choose who’s successful and who isn’t?” asks Republican state Sen. Jack Donahue of Mandeville, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and an increasingly outspoken critic of Louisiana tax policy. “What is that about?”

Read the whole thing. The Advocate series was published in late November and early December of 2014; now that the legislature has convened, the deficit has increased slightly to $1.6 billion, owing to the oil price collapse. Note well: oil prices have almost nothing to do with this crisis.

This is what happens when you are elected to be the Governor of Louisiana, but you choose instead to be the Governor for Grover Norquist.

UPDATE: Reader Josh DeCuir, a Louisiana conservative, writes:

“Rod is wrong to be so irrationally and emotionally opposed to Jindal…”

He is hardly alone – among Republicans – in this critical view of Jindal. In fact, Rod has rightly pointed out that not all of what Louisiana is going through is attributable to Jindal. But he ran as a governor who would turn Louisiana around, & leave it in better shape than when he was elected. He hasn’t done that. The larger point in my view is that somewhere Jindal made a conscious choice that Louisiana’s governing issues would be secondary to his national aspirations. That is clear from the amount of time he has spent out of the state (on the State’s dime, I might add) raising money & campaigning, as well as the fact that he has largely avoided ANY media access to statewide media in favor of national outlets.

And it’s not just the budgetary crisis facing us. His first “accomplishment” was ethics reform, which was so full of loopholes that essentially exempted his own administration from their application. Then his own former Health Secretary was indicted as part of a bribery scheme. Next came his education reform proposals that, while genuinely good, displayed such a lack of basic Louisiana law that one of the most conservative judges in Baton Rouge had no choice but essentially declare the entire package un-Constitutional.

The key piece for me is that Jindal has positioned himself as the candidate for Rod Dreher – his closest advisor is a home-schooled Christian conservative. So when he has lost Rod Dreher, he hasn’t exactly lost the bunch of us RINO country club Republicans who’d actually like to see state government work efficiently. Jindal’s record in Louisiana should give no comfort to anyone that thinks conservative, Tea Party style governance would yield effective results.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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