Gov. Bobby Jindal has outlined an ambitious program for his second term of office, including the privatization of the Louisiana Legislature, state colleges and universities, the sale of all state roads and highways and bridges to private concerns, and rapid expansion of the state’s charter school system, all to be controlled by private entities.
His plans for the state, which he calls the “Piyush Push,” were revealed by WikiLeaks which published a series of emails between Jindal and corporate campaign supporters who have contributed millions of dollars to Jindal’s wife’s charity, the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children. Upon learning of the WikiLeaks report, the governor called a press conference to explain his programs.
The privatization plan calls for the takeover of the Louisiana Legislature by a corporate board made up of the CEOs of Louisiana’s larger corporations and Wall Street bankers, including AT&T and Goldman Sachs.
The operating boards of state colleges and universities would be merged into a single governing board with board members serving at Jindal’s pleasure. An obscure clause in his plan would allow him to retain control of appointments even after he leaves office. The so-called super board would be comprised of major contributors who would purchase stock shares in the universities. Board members would be allowed to send their elementary- and high school-age children and grandchildren to state charter schools.
“We are not going to raise taxes on the people of Louisiana,” Jindal said at the hastily called press conference attended only by reporters from the Baton Rouge Business Report. “We are going to run these universities like a business. Tuition will be adjusted to a level comparable to that of our nation’s finest institutions, the Ivy League schools, of which I am an alumnus. The board members will not draw per diem or salaries for their services but we anticipate they will profit from their sacrifice and hard work through stock ownership and lucrative stock options in the universities,” the governor said.
“Again, I want to reiterate that we are not going to increase taxes but the new owners of state roads, highways, and bridges will certainly be free to charge a modest usage fee for travel on their byways and bridges,” Jindal said. “People who drive cars should understand that use of roads and bridges is a privilege, not a right and that a usage fee is not the same as a tax; it’s a fee. We believe that these usage fees will offset the need for any increase in gasoline taxes.”
As for the future of the legislature, Jindal said it will be downsized from the current membership of 144 to 12 white males who will inherit all current campaign contributions remaining and accruing to the 144 outgoing legislators. The only way an African-American would be appointed would be in the event of a class action lawsuit by representatives of minority groups. “It almost worked with the Board of Regents,” the governor said in defending his legislative plan.
A few legislators voiced reservations with the manner in which Jindal is moving to privatize their institution, but after having gone along with the governor in other privatization endeavors, most indicated they would not resist the new austerity moves by the governor. Nor was there any immediate indication that legislators would attempt to invoke the separation of powers doctrine under which the legislature has heretofore been largely independent of the governor’s office.
Sen. Carl Spackler of Bushwood, however, was one who vowed he will not vote in favor of privatization of the legislature. “I believe the legislative branch of government is protected in the Constitution somewhere and I’m going to read up on that,” Spackler said. “If I’m correct, I’m not going to sit still for him putting me out of a job. Who does Jindal think we are, state employees? I worked hard for my GED.”
But Jindal was emphatic about pushing for complete passage of his austerity package, saying there would be no compromise. “I want to emphasize that these moves are in keeping with my ‘more is less’ philosophy for all government,” he said. “For those who may question these actions, I would say to them, ‘Quit whining and work smarter.”
Neither is Jindal considering an increase in tobacco taxes. “Smoking is a private decision, an individual right, and smokers should not be penalized for exercising that right,” he said. “We are, however, imposing a significant surcharge for abortions to encourage the notion that life is sacred and women should not make such decisions too lightly. Again, I want to emphasize this is not a tax.”
He said he is also planning to sharply reduce the number of state employees. One example of his layoff plan would require every Louisiana citizen who is unwilling or unable to complete the process on-line to appear at a central location in Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Monroe, New Orleans, Alexandria, Lafayette, or Lake Charles for driver’s license applications and license renewals. “I don’t see why we can’t get by in each office with one or two persons,” he said. “How difficult can it be to issue a driver’s license?”
He also announced plans to double the size and the salaries of the state’s Homeland Security Office while at the same time saying he would cut staff at state hospitals to a single physician and nurse per specialty at each facility. “I believe with fewer doctors, people will find a way to stay healthier,” Jindal said.
“Again, I want to say we are not going to raise taxes,” he said. “That is not an option. We are, however, going to raise the annual deductible on medical care to $12,500 per year, increase co-payments to $50, and at the same time, we’re asking state workers to kick in another 75 percent on employee premiums on health care coverage and retirement benefits.”
Jindal used the press conference to take yet another swipe at big government in general and President Obama in particular. “The bloated federal government should take a look at Louisiana and say, “That’s how things should be done,” he said. “We’re proving in our open and transparent administration that our ethics are above reproach and we’re wiping out our deficit with good, open and honest government,” he said as the CEOs of AT&T, Northrop Grumman, Worley Catastrophe Response, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield stood behind him.
“I would once again call upon the Obama administration to repeal its drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico so that our oil companies can make a decent living,” Jindal said.
Jindal said he would sell all public schools to private entities so that they could be converted to charter schools. He said the move would be a model of efficiency for the rest of the nation. “I believe the 25 percent loss in Detroit’s population over the past decade, for example, could be reversed simply by converting to my proposed system for Louisiana schools,” he said.
“I fully anticipate there will be a bidding war for acquisition of schools as public finance will guarantee a solid return for investors,” Jindal said. “Of course my administration will invest the funds derived from the sale so that cash flow will support scholarships to the schools or such other General Fund needs as might arise in the budget balancing process.”
He said those children unable to take advantage of the improved educational opportunities will be housed in dormitories near the Nucor Steel Mill in St. James Parish, the Tournament Players Club golf course in Jefferson Parish, and the Foster Farms chicken processing plant in Union Parish. “There, they will be given hands-on training to meet the plants’ needs,” he said. “If all else fails, they would certainly be qualified to become slag haulers, caddies at state-run golf clubs, or chicken pluckers.”
To insure that the schools will succeed and will demonstrate high test scores, students will be carefully pre-screened before being accepted for enrollment, Jindal said. The schools will be run by boards comprised of members selected by the owners. Owners and board members, along with the college and university Super Board members, will be given first choice of the available seats in the school for their children, as will those of select employees.
“I am fully aware that all this will require Constitutional amendments but I fully expect the voters of Louisiana to continue to support our programs. But just in case, beginning here and now, I am stepping up my schedule of visiting churches to garner popular support for my proposals. Beginning Sunday and continuing through Election Day, I will be visiting churches all over north Louisiana. My agenda will consist of three things: Sunday morning and Sunday evening services as well as Wednesday night prayer meetings.”
And that’s the way it is on Friday, April 1, 2011.