Gov. Bobby Jindal's first year in office was kind of like a year in the Land of Oz. Almost magically, things seemed to go his way most if not all of the time. There was money to spend. Voters loved him. Lawmakers enacted his programs. The national media fawned. John McCain phoned. Bobby feigned.
Now it's back to Kansas. Or worse.
The governor has no ruby slippers, there is no Glinda the Good Witch, and while there may be no place like home, the things that are most familiar about Louisiana government are not the things people — or politicians — love about it.
This will be the year Bobby Jindal's meteoric political trajectory runs headlong into Louisiana political reality. This will be the year we find out what he's made of.
It's not that difficult to be governor when the planets all line up for you, when the state has a $1.2 billion surplus, when term limits give you a brand-new legislature elected on promises of reform, when the press and voters all love you. In such times, it's good to be the boy king.
But it's not exactly a reality check. Almost anybody can govern when things go swimmingly. It's when things fall apart that we see what leaders are made of — and things are falling apart everywhere on Bobby Jindal.
The state is facing its largest budgetary shortfall in history. The $2 billion figure most often used is inflated because it assumes all programs will be funded and/or expanded in the next fiscal year at least as much as they were in the current year. Still, the money that's expected to come in after July 1 is nowhere near what it will take just to maintain the status quo.
The fiscal news could get even worse if the price of oil remains low. The folly of rolling back those Stelly income tax brackets last year will become more apparent, but don't expect Jindal to lead the charge for "fiscal reform." He continues to insist he doesn't plan to run for president; if he means it, let him propose restoring those income tax brackets.
Meanwhile, he has unveiled the first of what will undoubtedly be several rounds of painful cuts — all of them in the areas of health care (supposedly his area of expertise) and higher education. Those are the only two budgetary areas not protected from cuts by the state constitution. While he's cutting health care and higher education, he's also trying to reinvent Louisiana's health care delivery system and keep young people from leaving the state.
Having an anemic health care system and cutting higher education to the bone are hardly prescriptions for attracting and keeping an educated workforce.
Complicating things further are the national economic slump and residual anger among lawmakers in the wake of last year's pay-raise debacle. Jindal promised leges he'd let the pay raise become law if they passed his voucher bill. In the end, he got his voucher bill, leges got a black eye for voting for a hefty raise and Jindal vetoed the raise anyway.
I wouldn't be surprised to see a legislative move to cut funding for the voucher program this spring. Payback is a bitch, but hey, as long as everyone is spreading the pain ...
Welcome to reality, Governor.