Despite opposition, reduced spending and consolidation have kept taxes, high unemployment at bay
Governor Bobby Jindal’s conservative fiscal policies have earned him the ire of many opponents, who have frequently derided his budget cuts as draconian. A recent editorial by Jim Geraghty in the Philadelphia Enquirer, however, extols Jindal’s measures as having been very beneficial to Louisiana.
Geraghty argues that by downsizing state programs and employees and drastically reducing spending, Jindal has managed to keep Louisiana’s unemployment rate at 7.1 percent- two points lower than the national average- and avoid raising taxes altogether. He asserts that, overall, Jindal has managed to successfully cut state spending by 25 percent.
Specifically, Jindal has achieved this through privatizing extraneous government operations. His proposal to privatize the Office of Risk Management was passed in this summer’s legislative session with the goal of running it more efficiently and with lower costs. Another major triumph was the conversion to coordinated-care networks for the state’s growing number of Medicaid patients. Altogether, these transitions towards privatization have whittled tens of millions of dollars from the state budget.
Jindal has also consolidated unnecessarily expansive state offices, including the Department of Revenue and the Department of Children and Family Services. He also targeted Louisiana’s grossly disproportionate of number of state employees, lowering the level of full-time state workers to its lowest level in nearly 20 years. In the 2011 Fiscal Year, the state eliminated roughly 3,500 full time positions, which comes on the heels of the 6,363 eliminated in Jindal’s first term. The estimated savings of these reductions has been
$600 million.
While Geraghty is accurate in that these policies have diminished the state’s oversized bureaucracy, his statistics, namely the 25 percent figure, are skewed. These budgetary numbers are distorted because some of the figures are attributed to one-time emergency funds from the federal government stemming from Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster. Thus, Geraghty credits Jindal for shaving off billions in state spending, when in reality much of that money was for one-time use only.
While he deserves credit for these successes, several of Jindal’s other initiatives have failed to gain enough traction to be passed into law. His propositions to consolidate state higher education and to privatize state mental health services have been met with stiff resistance within the Legislature and have stalled. While the measures which Geraghty approves of are certainly positive, the state’s economic health is dependent upon the solvency of education and health care, which can only be attained by the implementation of these long-term reforms.
Still, Governor Jindal deserves credit for lowering the state’s outlays, avoiding reliance on taxation, and keeping the unemployment level relatively low- all despite the accusations of austerity and gutting services which have consistently dogged him. While many have contested that Jindal’s cuts have been too harsh, the actual results indicate that other governors would do well to emulate many of the measures taken in Jindal’s tenure.