If Louisiana’s Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards has any hope of winning reelection, he’ll need a lazy and incurious mainstream media to parrot his misleading campaign theme.
That theme, as disgorged through campaign advertising, tries to resonate on two related points: (1) Republican former Gov. Bobby Jindal wreaked havoc on the state economically and (2) Edwards saved Louisiana from that, So, (3) keep him in office because otherwise the likes of the GOP’s Rep. Ralph Abraham or Eddie Rispone will be the second coming of Jindal.
How much either challenger would repeat local, stock, and barrel Jindal’s agenda is questionable, but undoubtedly they would advocate for different policies than Edwards. In particular, they look askance at tax increases that have fueled policies leading to a massive expansion in state government spending.
Consider that the fiscal year 2008 budget Jindal inherited from Democrat former Gov. Kathleen Blanco contained, exclusive of federal money and interagency transfers, spent $16.8 billion. By the end of his first term, Jindal had reduced that to $15.3 billion. But then outlays began creeping back up, with his last budget using $16.5 billion in state-sourced bucks. Still, over eight years, Jindal managed to claw back 3 percent of state dollar spending (even as in his last year he countenanced significant tax increases).
Then Edwards spearheaded the largest tax increase in the state’s history, a sales tax hike which disproportionately affected lower-income households, and government’s size exploded. His second-to-last FY 2019 budget ended up spending a record $18.2 billion, with more to come in this year’s. That’s 10 percent higher that Jindal’s last, an increase almost twice the rate of inflation.
Edwards would have us believe that this fiscal record has produced better economic performance than Jindal, an allegation predictably bought by the drive-by national media. One such example comes from the unabashedly partisan New York Times, which sicced one of its east coast-based stenographers, one Richard Faussett (a New Orleans native whose social media postings reveals he enjoys flirting with the “progressive” agenda) to do a story on the messaging by Blanco, Jindal, and Edwards when storms threaten. Tucked into the piece was this nugget of ignorance:
Mr. Edwards, a Democrat, was elected four years ago in large part because voters were worried about the huge structural deficits left by the departing Mr. Jindal, who pushed for tax cuts and breaks that failed to stimulate the economy and contributed to severe cutbacks in higher education funding.
Clearly, Faussett didn’t do his homework, seemingly content to swallow the party line as propagated by Edwards. In fact, the data show the Jindal tax and spending cuts improved the state’s economy, and his and Edwards’ tax and spending increases harmed it.
A review of five indicators of economic well-being reveals this: relative real gross domestic product growth (in chained dollars to discount inflation), personal income per capita growth, employment growth, state unemployment rate relative to the national rate, and relative population change over the previous four years. Relatively higher growths, the better state unemployment, and the more people wanting to live in Louisiana connote better economic performance.
The following table presents comparisons for the three eras featuring different economic policies: (1) Jindal’s first term, which had tax cuts early and spending reduction throughout, (2) Jindal’s second term, where spending began rising again and tax increases occurred at the end, and (3) Edwards’ three years in office, with its large tax increase early and record spending. Each entry also includes in parentheses Louisiana’s relative ranking among the states. In this fashion, national economic performance, which affects all states, can be factored out while gauging how the state performs against its peers.
|Indicator||Jindal 08-12||Jindal 12-16||Edwards 16-19|
|Real GDP (chained) relative change %||-0.5 (32)||-2.4 (47)||-2.1 (49)|
|Personal income PC relative change %||-0.7 (33)||-1.6 (44)||-0.3 (36)|
|Number of jobs relative change %||+0.5 (6)||-1.2 (43)||-0.7 (45)|
|Unemployment rate relative||-1.0 (20)||+1.2 (47)||+0.7 (43)|
|Population change relative change %||0.0 (26)||-0.5 (32)||-1.6 (44)|
(Most data here are taken from second quarters of the years indicated, as that is when the state’s fiscal year for budgeting purposes ends, except for 2019 where the latest state statistics available at present are from May, the last population estimate is from 2018, the last state ranking for employment is from 2018 (and done at the fourth quarter), and the earliest data for Jindal first term personal income was 2010.)
So, by way of example, from the end of the second quarter of 2008 (after Jindal had been in office about six months) through the second quarter of 2012 (about eight months after his reelection), 0.5 percent more jobs were created in Louisiana than nationally, ranking sixth highest among the states.
Reviewing these figures, Louisiana’s economy clearly performed better during the era of large tax and spending cuts of Jindal’s first term than during the era of Edwards and large tax and spending increases. In that first term, Louisiana bested national numbers in two categories and tied in a third, and, relative to other states, scored almost in the upper tenth, in the upper two-fifths, almost in the upper half, and twice in the upper two thirds.
Even Jindal’s second term with tax and spending increases marginally went better than Edwards’ three years. Even though all but one of the absolute numbers are better for Edwards, this reflects the state riding the coattails of Republican-induced tax cuts in 2017; the majority of state ranking indicators deteriorated showing the state lost ground to others under Edwards’ policies. And, even the least bad indicator of the bunch (the only one, barely, not in the bottom fifth) of only 0.3 percent lower personal income growth than occurred nationally is a left-handed compliment; that’s an artifact of the massive population loss relative to other states (giving it a negative net migration, the fifth worst among the states) which leaves fewer people to use as the denominator in calculating the average.
In short, in economic terms comparatively Louisianans are not better off than they were three years ago, and they are significantly worse off than they were seven years ago after government had cut taxes and spending than now when government has raised both taxes and spending. Edwards will try to distract voters from this dismal record by pointing to small absolute increases registered by some indicators, but those come from national economic performance using policies he repudiates. In truth, Louisiana has fallen further behind under Edwards.
But tools like Faussett are fooled, and thus they report inaccurate information about the state’s past economic performance, where the record shows tax cuts in part in fact did stimulate the economy. Nor is he correct about funding for higher education, which didn’t face “severe cutbacks” throughout the Jindal terms but instead for educational functions that spending fell less than 1 percent.
Edwards has to hope voters are gullible enough to buy his obfuscation and misdirection on the state’s economic performance under his watch and policies. Otherwise, he’ll be out of a job beginning next year.