Bobby Jindal has jumped on the Sam Brownback/Scott Walker bandwagon and has cut taxes every year that he has been office. The problem is that he has not been able to cut spending as fast as he has been cutting taxes. The dramatic drop in oil and gas prices has cut deeply into one of the state’s main sources of revenue, exacerbating his administration’s problem with red ink. The state is running a budget deficit somewhere around $1.5 billion, and the estimates are literally climbing on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
As I related in a very recent post [https://academeblog.org/2015/01/17/basic-arithmetic-is-catching-up-with-bobby-jindal/], the portion of the deficit expected to be covered by cuts to colleges and universities was about $350 million, but that estimate has now risen to $400 million. If those cuts occur, the state will almost surely have to close six community and technical colleges and three campuses in the Louisiana State University system, because such cuts in state support will leave those colleges and campuses unable to function at even the most barebones level after such cuts.
To be clear, the looming cuts would be massive under any circumstances, but they are simply unsupportable after a half-dozen previous years of continual, substantial cuts in state support. Jindal kept reducing state support even when other states began to restore some of the revenues cut during the depths of the Great Recession. Last year, Jindal somewhat increased the tuition increases that the state would allow public colleges and universities to impose on their students and then tried to pass off that action as an increase in state support [https://academeblog.org/2014/04/01/bobby-jindal-calls-a-large-tuition-increase-an-increase-in-his-states-support-for-higher-education/].
For a long time, Jindal has been shuffling revenues from one budget line to another in a sort of shell game, a futile effort intended to keep the budget problems from appearing as bad as they have been. As I related in that most recent post [https://academeblog.org/2015/01/17/basic-arithmetic-is-catching-up-with-bobby-jindal/], in November, the state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment that prohibits the state government from diverting monies allocated for shoreline restoration and several other initiatives in order to cover underfunded state obligations, including funding for higher education. Jindal had been budgeting millions for shoreline restoration, but the actual spending had been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even the most conservative voters in the state have finally noticed that more and more of the state’s shoreline is rapidly dissolving into the Gulf of Mexico.
Last year, as I related in another post [https://academeblog.org/2014/04/28/bobby-jindals-funding-of-higher-ed-is-so-jerry-rigged-that-louisiana-has-had-to-take-out-loans-to-keep-the-states-public-colleges-and-universities-solvent/], Louisiana had to borrow money to provide promised state support to colleges and universities.
Now, the state’s budget woes are threatening one of Jindal’s centerpiece initiatives. Writing for the New Orleans Times-Picayune [http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/01/wise_fund_fix.html], Julia O’Donoghue reports:
“Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration is scrambling to find money to preserve a higher education workforce development fund that was one of the governor’s major state policy initiatives last year.
“Jindal’s office has said it might be able to dump $30 million worth of federal funding for hurricane relief into the Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy fund, established just last year.
“Colleges and universities are currently using the WISE money to attract private investment for job training programs and education in high-demand fields. The efforts was supposed to boost the number of homegrown graduates employed in technology, engineering, computer science and related fields. . . .
“On Tuesday night, the Jindal administration told reporters they were trying to keep at least three-quarters of the $40 million WISE funding intact, after higher education presidents said earlier this month that it was unlikely the initiative would survive into next year.”
This is a desperate strategy on Jindal’s part because the federal monies have such restrictions on where and how they can be used that the state’s colleges and universities have been struggling to devise legitimate ways to make use of them. It is very unlikely that Jindal will be able to use these monies to sustain his pet program unless his administration attempts simply to misappropriate the monies.
Worse, Jindal seems to be scrambling to fund this pet program even as the whole funding structure for public higher education lurches toward a catastrophic collapse. This seems yet another instance in which political expediency seems to have trumped responsible governing.
For years, the mantra has been that the Democrats are irresponsible stewards of public revenues and all too willing to spend well beyond whatever crushing tax increases might be imposed on businesses and individuals.
But now, a whole generation of Republican governors has become intent on reducing state taxes to the point where basic public services and public institutions are being starved for revenue, and since restoring any taxes is anathema to them, the mechanisms for funding public services and public institutions are becoming increasingly jerry-rigged.
In short, the Far Right’s ideological antipathy toward taxation is undermining a long-cultivated image of the GOP as responsible businesslike managers of budgets. That image has never really aligned with the reality—the Reagan and two Bush administrations did, after all, run up unprecedented deficits—but, in terms of the party’s projected public image, the corporate manager is now degenerating into that hapless uncle who cannot seem to balance of checkbook and who periodically has to be rescued from financial calamities because he has no “money sense” whatsoever.