It's another budget year in Louisiana, which means that it's time for the annual festival in which lily-livered Republicans and the media they enable gather to wring their hands about Bobby Jindal's fiscal policies. This year the hand wringing is perhaps more fervent than ever given governor Jindal's elevated national profile due to the speculation that he will run for President. A sample of the kvetching can be found in Politico and the New York Times. Over at AmCon, serial changer of religious and political convictions Rod Dreher shows us how some alleged "conservatives" are doing it.
Here are the undisputed facts on the ground: 1. Lousiana is facing a $1.6 billion shortfall heading into this budget year. 2. A significant portion of that, by all accounts, is due to falling oil revenues, which are more or less constantly in flux. 3. Louisiana over the last several years has faced several such budget shortfalls and has, every year of Jindal's tenure, made up the shortfalls by making real cuts in the budget as opposed to tax increases. If you add all these facts together, you have a perfect stew for the anxious and weak-willed to simmer in and complain about how Bobby Jindal has destroyed the State of Louisiana. I was privileged to be on the ground in Lousiana when the poltroons were playing this exact same chorus in 2011 and you can read some of the stories I wrote about this then and note the eerie similarities.
These stories crop up every year in Louisiana and have several features in common: 1. an observation that the state faces a budget shortfall, 2. complaining from various Republicans indicating that revenues (read: taxes) should be raised 3. anecdotal evidence that previous years' budget cuts have wrought terrible hardships on the people of Louisiana. They always conveniently omit 1. Actual data 2. The context of previous years which indicates that this truly is another instance of same song, different verse.
Allow me to rectify the first of those deficiencies with some actual data about the effect of Jindal's budgetary approach, which has remained constant throughout virtually his entire tenure. Weak-kneed pundits (and state legislators') favorite word for Jindal's budgetary approach is "irresponsible," primarily because Jindal refuses, out of hand, to consider tax increases to make up shortfalls. There is absolutely no reason given for why this is "irresponsible" other than the ipse dixit of whatever author is playing useful idiot for the media at that point. On the contrary, people who are paid to rate the fiscal responsibility of state governments for the purposes of evaluating government debt have been consistently bullish on Jindal's budgetary approach. Moody's has raised the state's credit rating from A2 (middle of the medium risk tier) when Jindal took office to Aa2 (middle of the low risk tier) today. Standard and Poor's has also upgraded Louisana's credit rating twice since Jindal took office. Fitch has likewise improved Louiana's credit rating twice. When Governor Jindal took office in 2008, Louisiana had one of the worst credit ratings in the entire country, and it now finds itself in about the middle of the pack. The people who are paid to evaluate Louisiana's budget practices from fiscal standpoint clearly view Jindal's budgetary approach to be sound, especially compared to those of his predecessors.
People who are paid to hyperventilate in public about Republicans, not so much.
Alright, but even if the state budget is in fine shape, you still might argue that the cuts Jindal has made to the state government has hurt the private sector. The primary metric used to back this claim is the fact that Louisiana's unemployment rate is higher now than it was when Jindal took office. In the first place, it is worth noting that Jindal took office immediately before the recession that crippled the entire country took effect. But more importantly, as we have seen with the national unemployment numbers, unemployment is an outdated and nearly useless measure with which to measure actual economic performance of the private sector. The far more relevant numbers are the number of actual jobs in existence combined per capita income, which measures the extent to which the jobs that do exist are quality jobs. These are the exact figures that Republicans have used across the country to show that the Obama "recovery" is merely an illusory one created by accounting tricks - and that workforce participation remains low and that real household wages have stagnated or are actually falling.
The reality is that Lousiana has added a ton of jobs since Jindal took office - in fact, since 2008, they are the number 5 state in the country for job growth. Per capita income has also actually grown in Louisiana by 15% over the last 6 years, which far outpaces the national trend. There are more jobs in Louisana now than there have been since 2008, and those jobs pay better. Louisiana's GDP is growing at the third-fastest rate in the whole country, indicating that private sector health is remarkably strong. The main factor driving the unemployment rate is that Louisiana has experienced 7 straight years of population growth since Jindal took office, which would seem to suggest that from a public services and economic standpoint, Louisiana might not be the hellhole that the fainting brigade would have you believe.
I have always been astounded at the reaction to Jindal's governing style from some conservatives who should frankly know better. I realize that it is more or less an unprecedented thing that a guy who runs on cutting the size of government actually cuts the size of government. But we should not be surprised that in the process of doing so, somebody's dad isn't going to be able to go to their favorite hospital anymore, and somebody's alma mater is going to face budget cuts, and somebody's pension is going to be affected, and those particular somebodies are going to be mad about it, and will always find a Democrat in the media who is willing to stick a microphone in their face and hear their tale of woe - woe forced upon them, of course, by the evil Republican in office.
Actual data in Louisiana tells a very different picture from these anecdotes - it tells of a state whose budgetary process has for 7 consecutive years impressed creditors, whose private sector is healthy and growing, and whose overall job growth is among the best in the country. These are not facts that could be said of any other governor in Louisiana's recent history. The notion that they indicate that Bobby Jindal has "ruined" Louisiana, instead of drastically improving it, is laughable on its face.