At the risk of sounding racist, Gov. Bobby Jindal has to be considered as a true Indian giver. More accurately, an Indian giver with no leadership qualities.
There. I’ve said it. Someone had to.
Gov. “I’m not taking and federal stimulus money” Jindal back in September finally acquiesced and made formal application for $147 million in education funding. That was the amount for which Louisiana was deemed eligible from the $26 billion federal stimulus bill that was passed by Congress in August.
State Superintendent of Education Paul—“I didn’t know it was improper to use a state vehicle for dozens of personal trips to Chicago”—Pastorek said the state was making the application for the money because there were “no policy strings attached.”
“No strings” notwithstanding, federal guidelines required that the money go directly to the local school districts and that the money be used to pay salaries and benefits for teachers, school administrators and other staff.
The local school district officials were ecstatic. In some parishes it had already been determined that the local districts could no longer afford to pay substitute teachers when regular teachers were out sick and that the regular teachers would have to pay them out of their own salaries. Suddenly it seemed there was relief for the local officials who worked the infusion of cash into their operating budgets.
Then, just as suddenly, Jindal last week pulled the rug from under the local districts. More precisely, he pulled the money.
He created his own strings, it seems, choosing to commandeer the money to plug the $106 million hole in the administration’s budget and to offset cuts to higher education, an area he has already gutted with earlier cuts. In fact, one might suspect that the political backlash against his higher ed cuts were such that in grasping for an answer, he fell upon the brilliant idea of jerking the $147 from public education. Problem solved or leadership void?
Jindal’s latest misstep lays bare the sad fact that he really has no plan for pulling Louisiana out of the current fiscal morass. He is every bit as lost in facing this crisis as Gov. Kathleen Blanco was in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But give Gov. Blanco her due: her crisis was not self-inflicted, but was a natural disaster with which nearly anyone would have been ill-equipped to deal.
Jindal, on the other hand, had to see this coming. We were warned that the legislature should not be spending one-time money from the hurricane recovery funds in the manner it was. No one listened; not the legislature and certainly not the governor who was loath to use the line item veto at his disposal.
And now, in the middle of a fiscal crisis and with an even bigger one looming next year, what does Jindal do? He scoots off to dozens of states to campaign on behalf of Republican candidates for governor, Congress, and the U.S. Senate, leaving home-schooled subordinates to grapple with the budget deficit. For those not especially good at history, Richard Nixon did the same thing in preparation for his successful 1968 run at the president’s office, except he did it as a private citizen. He lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960 and then somehow managed to lose the California governor’s election to Pat Brown, prompting his famous line, “You won’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any longer.”
Instead, Nixon, not as a sitting governor ignoring responsibilities to his state, began working on behalf of Republican candidates, amassing in the process, a hatful of chits that he was able to redeem in 1968. That’s exactly what Jindal seems to be doing. He was absent so often during the state’s worsening financial crisis, that the president of the LSU student body fired off a letter to a New Hampshire newspaper asking the governor to return home.
Jindal insists he has the job he wants. If that’s true, he should stay home and do that job. Instead of staying home once the November elections were over, however, he now embarks to a tour to tout his book, Leadership and Crisis. That begs the question, “what leadership?” Jindal “presided over Louisiana’s healthcare system at age 24, headed the University of Louisiana system at 27, became a U.S. congressman at 33, and was elected governor of Louisiana at 36,” according to the Amazon.com promotion of his book. Do we see a trend here? The two systems that he headed under former Gov. Mike Foster, higher education and health care, are the two agencies that he appears determined to dismantle.
Again, the question: “what leadership?”
Jindal had his chance. He blew it. He could have slashed away at the Capital Outlay Bill in the session that ended last summer, but he didn’t. He could easily have cut nearly half-a-billion in wasteful spending from the bill, but he didn’t. He could bring himself to cut only $9.4 million. And now he has backed himself into a corner.
Where was the leadership, Gov. Jindal?
Instead of spending millions of dollars purchasing golf courses, the governor could have said no. But he didn’t.
Where was the leadership?
In ordering deeper cuts recently, Jindal told department heads the state needed more leadership and less whining. Immediately after making that brash statement, the state’s leader in abstensia left for Pittsburgh, PA, to campaign for yet another Republican candidate.
Where was the leadership?
Just in case you may have missed it, Governor, here again is a partial list of inappropriate appropriations that, had they been vetoed on one of the days that you were in the state, the financial mess in which we now find ourselves might have been averted.
That would be real leadership.
So, please read these during your next flight to some other state to promote your leadership book:
• $800,000 for land acquisition for the proposed Allen Parish Reservoir;
• $1.4 million for the proposed Bayou Dechene Reservoir in Caldwell Parish;
• $2.6 million for the Washington Parish Reservoir Commission Feasibility study;
• $17.2 million for Bayou Segnette Festival Park land acquisition and sports complex improvements;
• $28 million for modifications to the Performing Arts Center in Jefferson Parish;
• $2 million for construction of a playground Basketball Gym in Orleans Parish;
• $1.8 million for construction of the Little Theatre of Shreveport;
• $2.6 million for a new Westbank YMCA in Algiers;
• $2 million for the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame;
• $6 million for construction of a new courthouse in Baton Rouge;
• $2.8 million for the Dryades YMCA in New Orleans;
• $5.4 million for the Red River Waterway Commission;
• $7.7 million for the renovation of the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette;
• $2.5 million for improvements to the Coteau Water System in St. Martin and Iberia parishes;
• $2.4 million for the Union Parish Law Enforcement District;
• $1.8 million for construction for the Robinson Film Center in Caddo Parish;
• $12 million for construction of a convention center complex in Shreveport;
• $3.8 million for a new tennis center in Orleans Parish;
• $4.7 million for construction of the Louisiana Artist Guild Arts Incubator in New Orleans;
• $26.5 million for expansion and construction of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Millions more were spent on construction projects that included recreational facilities, councils on aging, courthouses, sheriffs’ offices, jails, drainage projects, work on parish and municipal road and street construction projects, community centers, and water systems.
As if that were not enough, when legislators found extra money lying around, as they always seem to do during each legislative session, the House quickly pushed HB 76 through, appropriating an additional $33 million in local pork projects. Some of those expenditures:
• $150,000 for the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in Winnfield;
• $500,000 for the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities;
• $500,000 to “organizations which assist small towns and rural areas with their water and wastewater systems;”
• $250,000 for construction of an animal shelter in St. Charles Parish;
• $1 million to the Lafayette Parish Consolidated Government for infrastructure construction.
Where was the leadership?