If there is some kind of five-ringed Olympic medal for budgetary failure, it would have to go to Gov. Bobby Jindal for his latest achievement — a fifth year of midyear budget cuts in state services.
Weaker revenue collections were reported to the Revenue Estimating Conference, and the Jindal administration responded by ordering $166 million in cuts, mostly in health-care services for the poor. An additional $22 million was dished out to higher education.
This came after colleges were cut by the Legislature in the fiscal year 2013 budget last summer.
It is part of a series of budgetary cutbacks and tuition increases that have staggered Louisiana’s colleges and universities. The large tuition increases of the last few years haven’t filled the gaps, and they are making college education less affordable year by year.
What is behind this story is a Jindal era of mismanagement.
In 2008, revenues were still flooding in from the stimulus to the state’s economy caused by hurricane rebuilding efforts.
Huge tax cuts, both to individuals and businesses, were passed by the Legislature and signed by Jindal — with uncannily bad timing, as the national recession promptly doubled down on the inevitable tailing off of hurricane-related spending in the state.
Since, it’s been all downhill.
Even though the general fund has increased, the tax cuts — particularly in income taxes for the higher-income brackets — resulted in a much lower base for revenues.
Those problems will resonate in the fiscal 2014 budget, which is facing a shortfall of more than $1 billion based on the weakness of the revenue projections used by the administration this year.
This will be a problem, even assuming that the state does not fund merit pay raises and other annual costs that have been routinely waived for the past few years. The morale of state employees is probably so low that few if any of them are counting on those particular chickens to hatch this year.
Along the way, some justified cuts in state spending have been ordered by Jindal, but those were relatively small savings and not sufficient to fill the budget gaps.
The chaotic process by which these changes have occurred is striking: Legislators can hardly call themselves teammates when their lack of consultation — much less power — has become a byword in the State Capitol.
Year after year, in a truly Olympic display of dexterity, the administration has raided small funds throughout the budget, milked expedients such as sale of state property, and shuffled money around so that large amounts of one-time money could be included in the operating budget. Somebody is going to write a Ph.D. dissertation on erratic short-term measures in a state that cries out for long-term planning, not to mention a greater commitment to education at all levels.
Midyear budget cuts represent more than just lost money for services. Because they must be instituted quickly, the cuts disrupt the orderly processes of spending decisions in state departments and institutions, and the health-care providers in the Medicaid system. It is the opposite of sound planning.
Every time Jindal decries federal spending, the endless series of efforts to throw one-time state money into the Medicaid budget — handsomely matched by the U.S. taxpayer — ought to make one wonder what is guiding the administration’s decisionmaking.
Or, like the aging Olympic athlete, the efforts required to keep ahead of the deficits only show how much talent is no longer there.
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