As many as twenty-two states have budget shortfalls for the next fiscal year. Louisiana is dealing with one of the biggest — $1.6 billion.
As lawmakers wrestle with the problem, they essentially have two choices: cut spending or raise taxes.
But, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ambitions for higher office are complicating the debate.
Gov. Bobby Jindal hasn’t joined the crowded Republican presidential field yet, but he’s holding tight to his pledge not to raise taxes. He’s indicated he’d veto any net tax increase.
“It may be novel for folks to see a Louisiana elected official do what he said he was going to do," Jindal told reporters in Baton Rouge at the start of the legislative session, "but I’m absolutely committed to keeping my word to the people of Louisiana. I was very clear when I ran for office, both for Congress as well as for governor, that I was not going to raise taxes.”
That pledge has rankled many in the legislature, including fellow Republican Sen. Robert Adley, who scoffs at Jindal’s no-tax vow.
“What is the pledge that you made to the people of Louisiana? Let’s honor that pledge. Forget about what pledge you made regarding some political office you’re running for," Adley said. "It’s so wrong to put that pledge above the oath you put your hand on the Bible for.”
To explain what’s going on with Louisiana’s budget, and the problem of the $1.6 billion shortfall, Senator Adley pours out some toy blocks. He builds a stack representing federal money for things like Medicaid, another for money guaranteed by the state for public schools, coastal protection and even Boll Weevil eradication.
“Since everything else is dedicated and I can’t touch it, that $1.6 billion means I have to take over half of what I’ve got for universities and hospitals out of the budget," Adley explained.
To keep the blocks for universities and hospitals from tumbling any further, Adley says that leaves another stack to fall: business.
Louisiana lawmakers have voted to scale back tax credits and exemptions for film productions, solar energy systems, and horizontal drilling. And they’ve voted to shave 20 percent or more off the top from a laundry list of other tax breaks.
But those ideas could be dead on arrival if Gov. Jindal deems them a violation of his no-tax pledge.
So, with state funding uncertain, Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge has canceled half of its planned 125 faculty hires for next year.
And on campus, the name “Jindal” has become a bad word.
While Justin DiCharia was leading a student rally at the state capitol in April, the governor was headlining an Obamacare event.
“It is typical and testament to Bobby Jindal’s time as our governor, that he is in fact not in the state today. Instead he is Washington, D.C.," DiCharia said from a podium at the top of the capitol steps. "I’m tired of being collateral damage in a suicide mission for the presidency.”
Jindal has set a date — June 24 — when he’ll announce if he’s running, after the legislature adjourns. But first, as he told Shannon Bream of Fox News, he had to address one of his top legislative priorities: protecting religious liberty.
“America didn’t create religious liberty, Shannon. Religious liberty created America. And without religious liberty rights, no freedom of association, no freedom of speech — it’s so foundational to our other rights.”
Two days later a bill to prohibit the state from penalizing businesses and individuals for acting on a religious belief about marriage failed. So Jindal issued an executive order.
During his time on Fox News, the governor didn’t utter a word about Louisiana’s budget.