Governor Bobby Jindal wants to eliminate the state income tax and make up for the lost revenue by increasing state sales taxes. He is seeking money to run a media campaign in support of his proposal.
But Louisianians are not likely to be asked to vote on the tax reforms until late 2014. So why lobby support from the general public now?
WRKF’s Ashley Westerman put that question to LSU professor and director of the Manship School’s Public Policy Research Lab Kirby Goidel.
GOIDEL: Well, he has several considerations. So one consideration is how the people will vote but another consideration is how he deals with the legislature. I think he was probably shocked a little bit by some recent polling numbers that show his approval has been declining and it’s lower than, I think, a lot of people expected. So I think you have to build support around an idea, you have to lay the groundwork, you have to lay the framework in order to get support later.
WESTERMAN: Okay, so that being said, what do you think he is hoping to accomplish by reaching out to the general public on this issue?
GOIDEL: I think mostly around this particular issue, and I don’t know if they have internal polling that would show this or not, but I think there’s a lot of confusion. What exactly is he proposing? How exactly would it affect state government? How exactly would it affect state programs? And there’s this perception with Jindal always that what he’s doing is for a national audience and not for a local audience. So I think you have to deal with all of those issues so that people understand what he’s actually proposing and he’s got to build support for it and I think that takes some time.
WESTERMAN: This is not Jindal’s first media campaign. Last year there was a campaign in favor of the major education reforms. Let’s take a listen to one of the ads that ran.
“If more money was the answer, Louisiana would already have the best schools in America. But year after year, we fall further behind. Our future is being squandered. Good teachers are leaving. It’s like banging your head against the wall. But Governor Jindal has a plan for real reform...”
Do you think that campaign had any effect on the outcome of that legislation last year?
GOIDEL: I’m not sure that the specific ad did. But the question is, “How is the issue going to be framed?” And on that particular issue, I think Jindal was successful in being able to say, “We have public schools that are failing and I have a plan to change them.” And I think on this campaign, I think the approach will be similar. The idea is sort of portray that our tax system is not working very effectively, it’s too complex, it doesn’t make enough sense, it’s pushing business away. And if we can simplify it, and we can move up in the rankings in terms of business climate numbers, then we can have a better tax system that people understand better and that’s more attractive to businesses that grows the economy. And I think that’s what you’re trying to do with these types of ads, is just frame the issue more generally so that when people think about the issue, they’re thinking about it in the terms you want them to think about it.
WESTERMAN: La Politics is reporting that Jindal is seeking to raise $750,000 for the media campaign, the media campaign for his tax reform proposal. How far does that get him?
GOIDEL: Well, it’s always good to have money. Especially when you’re trying to change something that’s important. You can’t just take people and put a lot of money into advertising and make them believe anything. The campaign has to be effective, it has to be directed at what people already believe in a lot of ways and you have to appeal to fundamental values that people already have. So I think in terms of how far it gets him, it really depends on how well they craft the message and how well they appeal to the right set of voters. You know, he’s not going to be able to blanket so you that you see an ad every third commercial. On the other hand, it should be enough to make sure that people have heard his message, heard it clearly and I think the other thing that he would hope for is that it generates some earned media through media coverage of his advertisements and what he’s saying and how he’s framing the message.
WESTERMAN: Finally, many say Jindal has presidential ambitions. Is spurring a media campaign a common practice for politicians that want to make that jump to a presidential bid?
GOIDEL: Using a media campaign like this, I think, is sort of a valuable proving ground to show what he can do and how effectively he can communicate. So what he really wants, I think, assuming that he is looking at 2016, what he would really want is to be able to say is, “Look, I did ethics reform. I came into a state that’s known for corruption and I did ethics reform. I came into a state that’s known for poor public schools and we did school reform. I came into a state that had problems in terms of the way their taxes were structure, they were too complex, they were too burdensome and we changed the way the tax system works.” And when you look at that sort of check list you’re able to say, “Wow, that’s a pretty impressive record; a reformer with results as governor.”
The media campaign, I think is important, because on the tax issue nothing is guaranteed. This is going to be a difficult sell for him. There are all sorts of tactical maneuvers that we can think about in terms of how he might get it through. But to try to get two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass what he’s suggesting right now, it’s going to be a tough campaign. So he has to do the campaign to get the result that he wants.