Let’s preface this piece by admitting that I’m a fan of Bobby Jindal, comparatively speaking. No, I don’t think he’s presidential or vice-presidential timber at this point. Cabinet secretary, perhaps, but not much beyond that without a bit more experience. I do think Jindal gets a bad rap from people looking to criticize him for all kinds of ulterior motives (and certainly some valid ones as well), and I think regardless of what anybody might think of Jindal he’s far and away the best governor this state has had in the past 25 years or beyond and he’s the best governor Louisiana is getting in the foreseeable future based on who else is out there.
So out of a sense of optimism, if nothing else, I try to give Jindal the benefit of the doubt despite some of the head-scratching things he’s done. I have lots of misgivings about him, but those don’t bother me because in general I expect to be horribly disappointed by politicians – and I can see at least some justification for most of what the governor has done in the two years since he’s been in office.
It is with that spirit which I proceed by saying that perhaps Jindal’s $24 billion budget proposal which violates his rule against using one-time money to plug recurring funding holes is based in something other than a 2012 national run, an impending resignation or an expectation of another federal stimulus check.
Maybe, just maybe, the governor is trying to get through his first term before trying to attack the structural defect in the state constitution which forces higher education and health care onto the chopping block every time there’s a downturn.
Everybody knows that Louisiana’s budget is hamstrung by its constitution, causing wasteful and pointless spending in some protected areas while drastic cuts are just around the corner at all times in others. But to make changes to it will be a colossal effort; three Louisiana governors have tried to change the constitution to free up funding alternatives and spread cuts out over a number of departments, including an effort made by Jindal and his floor leaders last year. He’s got to wait until the next fiscal session next year to come back to this issue, and since 2011 is an election year in Louisiana it will be interesting to see if he attacks this issue then. Term limits have already wiped out many of the old-line legislators at the Capitol, but they’ll take down even more after the current term ends. That may mean Jindal’s best bet to attack this issue is 2013, when he’ll have a largely brand-new group of leges not wedded to the old way of doing things.
The other argument for muddling through until 2013 is that by then one of two things is likely to happen. First, many in the oil patch will tell you the price of oil is likely to skyrocket in the next few months and unlike the last price spike in 2008 this one has greater potential for lasting – due to inflationary pressure, stagnant production in places like Venezuela and Mexico, political uncertainty in Iran and Nigeria and increasing demand in China and India. Higher oil prices make for terrific revenue numbers for the state of Louisiana. And second, the coming shift to natural gas as a fuel to power America’s power grid as well as an alternative to gasoline in the transportation sector will put Louisiana’s Haynesville Shale at the forefront of the nation’s energy economy; by the end of the second term it’s quite likely the impact on the state’s treasury will relieve much of the pressure on the governor to make painful changes.
Or maybe Jindal is the fraud many are now claiming him to be, and maybe he’s angling for a way out of Baton Rouge and up to Washington, leaving a successor to deal with a colossal budget nightmare. We don’t know yet and given the cagey and enigmatic nature of his operation – something I’ve never really understood, by the way – we probably won’t know until it plays out.