Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has been for the most part, strangely quiet regarding President Obama’s healthcare proposals. Certainly he’s done a bit of grandstanding to remind any potential voters and donors that he’s their kind of conservative. But for Jindal, who has used every unpopular democratic proposal as his own personal soapbox for the past year to steer mostly clear of healthcare seems odd. Well, actually it doesn’t…
I think Jindal has a dark and dirty secret he has to hide from his Republican cohorts.
Bobby’s got a crush on Obama.
Well, maybe he isn’t exactly in love with B-Rock himself, but he surely must have a twinkle in his eyes for the President’s plans for universal healthcare. Why? Well Bobby, like most of his peers has a nice free publicly funded healthcare plan for himself and his family. In fact, he’s had taxpayer-funded health insurance since he was in college. He doesn’t have to worry about his own healthcare, so from a personal health standpoint the Obama plans really don’t affect him too much. But, aside from his own occasional scraped knee or Flu shot, Bobby does have one big worry that is always on his mind — the Louisiana State Budget.
Nobody Knows the Troubles He’s Seen
So here we have Bobby Jindal — child star of the GOP — the party of budgetary restraint and responsibility (we’ll ignore the past 12 years and assume they still practice what they preach), and we have him balancing the running of the state of Louisiana with his hopeful shot at the big national job in a few years. So Jindal has to manage a pretty amazing balancing act — he has to be the voice of fiduciary responsibility while meeting the needs of one of the poorest populations in the country.
It’s that population that creates a problem for Jindal. Louisiana is a state with more potential wealth than most of the country, yet centuries of privateering upon the state by business and national government interests have left the 25th most populous state with the 49th most impoverished citizenry. Most years entail huge budget shortfalls and problems with transportation, education, and healthcare funding throughout the state; in a time when government wants to be concentrating on economic development, Louisiana has problems filling potholes and paying for band-aids.
Louisiana has a population of around 4.5 million people. Together they pay $4 billion each year in income taxes to their state government or roughly $1000 per person on average (certainly many pay no taxes and many others pay considerably more). As last year’s electoral support for Ron Paul shows, Louisianians have a strong libertarian streak. They like to take care of their own, but they expect maximum return on their tax investment and would just as soon not pay for anything they don’t have to.
Louisiana’s libertarian streak is balanced in a strange way by an equally strong sense social responsibility not as evident in most states. Louisiana has always had a strong history of publicly funded education, infrastructure, and healthcare.
Going back the 1920’s and the populist movement of Huey P. Long, Louisiana has maintained one of the most comprehensive charity hospital systems in the nation. The charity system in Louisiana is by far not perfect, but it does make the state unique in that technically, every person in Louisiana does have universal healthcare. Sure it’s not the best, and if they feel you can afford it, they will bill you, but everyone here can go to a hospital or clinic, or Parish health unit and get care. This care gets expensive. Even with those in the state who have private insurance not using the Charity system, we still spend $8 Billion each year running our state healthcare system — that’s about $2,000 per person per year, or roughly twice what the average income tax per person is.
Our other big public expenditure is education, and in particular higher education — the many colleges and universities of our state. There are roughly 150,000 college students at Louisiana’s colleges and universities (a little over 3% of the population).
Money, Money, Money must be funny…
Higher Education and Healthcare have one main thing in common for Bobby Jindal: They fall into that part of the budget that is not protected from budget cuts. That means that no matter how vital these services are, or how popular they are, when it comes time to make up a shortfall in revenues, it’s Healthcare and Higher Education that get the axe in Louisiana.
So it’s rather funny, the two areas that have the most impact on Louisiana’s future economic viability are the most vulnerable in our budgeting process. Obviously we need healthy workers and more obviously we need an educated workforce to lift the state’s populace out of poverty. What’s also a bit funny — not comical, but ironic — is the fact that higher education and healthcare are Bobby Jindal’s two shining bullets on his elect-me resume. Having worked for Governor Mike Foster as the youngest head of the University of Louisiana system and then as part of the Bush administrations healthcare team. If there were anyone in the governor’s office in Louisiana in the past 20 years who should know how to deal with Louisiana’s health and education needs it should be Bobby Jindal.
Unfortunately for Bobby, much in the same situation as Obama, he’s been dealing with money far more than medicine and with the economics of running the states colleges and universities in an ever deepening deficit. This budget year will see the Governor slashing 635 million dollars in higher education spending. Take that $635 m and divide it by the 150,000 college students in the state and you have per student burden of those cuts equaling a ghastly $5,000 each! That $5,000 per student cut can only be directly felt by those students and their families as either a lessening in educational quality and opportunity or a very hefty increase in tuition in a time when no one can afford an increase in anything.
Executive Branch Romance
Higher Education and Healthcare aren’t Louisiana’s only funding problems. As reported in the Town Talk last week the state’s transportation infrastructure backlog is nearly a decade behind — even after the huge influx of federal dollars from economic and storm recovery programs. And, in Central Louisiana alone the finding backlog sits at $250 million with only $12 million in annual spending being available on a good year.
So how does this all tie into how the secret romance could be budding behind the executive households of Washington and Baton Rouge?
Well as beneficial as it has been for Bobby Jindal to politically challenge every proposal the Obama administration has put forth, that alone can’t win him a future Republican nomination. The Christian Conservative wave on which Bobby Jindal has built his personal political career has very quickly moved from being the centerpiece of his Republican party to now being openly referred to as a fringe element. While Bobby certainly has the support of that fringe, even here in Louisiana where vast stretches of the state vote as their preachers tell them to, people are looking for something more than vacuous ideology and hateful rhetoric.
No Bobby won’t win in the future only on arguing against gays and for God. He has to do far more than that. His first foray into the realm of the new Republican has thus far backfired with the true colors of his “Ethics Reform” showing the cracking finish of a once gleaming facade. Jindal needs to show the state and more importantly his national party that he can be one of the new Republicans — that he like the long unfulfilled promises of his party can move beyond a decade of massive political corruption and conservatism with corporate sponsorship. For the Governor to ever be more than governor, he must show that he can solve the social and societal issues of his state and make it more attractive to economic development, all the while limiting taxation and reigning in the now very bloated state budget.
Change that even a Republican Could Use
This past week Louisiana Congressman Cao made big news by being the only Republican to cross the very demarcated party divide to vote for the house Healthcare bill. But Cao may not be the only Louisiana Republican who sees the massive benefit his state could reap from Obama’s universal health coverage. Bobby is not a dumb man and he’s very good with numbers…
Those numbers as mentioned above are that Louisiana currently spends 8 billion dollars of its state budget every year on providing healthcare for its citizens. What that has to do with universal healthcare is incredibly simple and it’s amazing ingenious of him not to oppose it. If the federal government were to pick up the tab of funding healthcare of Louisiana’s citizens, then suddenly the state would have $8 billion more dollars a year than it has now. Actually they may end up with even more because they would have the opportunity of converting one of the nation’s largest charity hospital systems into a profitable network of healthcare providers funded not by the state’s taxpayers but by a national healthcare program.
What would that $8,000,000,000 mean for Louisiana? A lot. What would it mean for Bobby Jindal? A nomination.
With the 8 billion dollar healthcare burden removed from the state budget the Governor and Legislature could fully fund higher education, could fund every transportation backlog in a single fiscal year, and could actually eliminate the personal income tax from the state altogether. Look again at the numbers:
$8,000,000,000 (healthcare expenditures)
– 635,000,000 (Higher Ed Cuts)
– 4,000,000,000 (total personal income taxes paid)
$3,365,000,000 (left over to play with)
It’s a new Republican’s dream and if Obama get’s his wish in Washington, Bobby Jindal just may get his as well.
It’s a nice sentiment, Drew, but I think the Governor spelled out his vision for health care reform in an editorial he wrote for the Wall Street Journal a few months ago.
“First, Mr. Obama doggedly promises that if you like your (private) health-care coverage now, you can keep it. That promise is hollow, because the Democrats’ reforms are designed to push an ever-increasing number of Americans into a government-run health-care plan.
“If a so-called public option is part of health-care reform, the Lewin Group study estimates over 100 million Americans may leave private plans for government-run health care. Any government plan will benefit from taxpayer subsidies and be able to operate at a financial loss—competing unfairly in the marketplace until private plans are driven out of business. The government plan will become so large that it will set, rather than negotiate, prices. This will inevitably lead to monopoly, with a resulting threat to the quality of our health care. “
I must have missed that one. But still, it will be interesting to see how he balances rhetoric against the President with a program that could fiscally save his state.
By the way, Jindal should have disclosed that the numbers he cites from the Lewin Group, in fact, actually from a firm owned by a private health care company.