Magicians call it misdirection — getting an audience to look in one place so people don't see what you're doing somewhere else. Politicians likewise are good at getting people to focus on the mouse in the corner instead of the elephant in the middle of the room. Gov. Bobby Jindal is no Penn & Teller, but he attempted some mighty misdirection last week in his opening day address to the Louisiana Legislature.
It was Jindal's last such speech, and the elephant in the House Chamber was, of course, the $1.6 billion state budget hole. Jindal certainly couldn't dwell on that — his true legacy as governor — while he pretends to decide whether he's running for president. Therefore, much of his 21-minute speech focused on three elements of misdirection: his already doomed rollback of inventory tax credit rebates, which he termed "corporate welfare"; his opposition to the Common Core educational standards; and the Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act (House Bill 707), an unnecessary and divisive sideshow.
Let's dispense with the misdirection.
• "Corporate welfare" — Since he became governor, Jindal and big business have enjoyed a cozy relationship. Now that he's about to leave office, he suggests repealing the refundable portion of the state's inventory tax credit — much to the chagrin of business interests. Jindal's former allies rightly feel betrayed. The powerful Louisiana Association of Business & Industry calls the governor's proposal a tax hike, as does U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a frequent Jindal critic who now wants the governor's job. "If companies are getting checks from the taxpayer as opposed to paying taxes, then that is government spending that needs to be examined and reduced," Jindal told lawmakers. He has a point, but his proposal is DOA unless the governor focuses more on Louisiana and less on Iowa and New Hampshire. Bottom line: Pushing a doomed idea does nothing to solve the state's $1.6 billion budget hole.
• Common Core — It's painfully obvious that Candidate Jindal doesn't get people's blood racing, so he needs an issue that does. Despite wide support from the business community and many educators, Common Core is wildly unpopular among many Republicans and some Democrats. Jindal would like everyone to forget that he once championed Common Core — and helped create it. This fight is another time-wasting distraction.
• "Religious freedom" — This issue wasn't even on Jindal's radar a month ago, but similar legislation in Indiana and Arkansas triggered fierce opposition from business leaders who rightly opposed discriminating against or offending LGBT people. Louisiana's version of the bill, authored by state Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Bossier City, is even more contemptible. Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau oppose it, and State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, called it "a perversion of the law" and "a waste of time and ink." We agree.
All three of Jindal's talking points in his Opening Day address offend his former top allies in the business community, and all three are classic examples of political misdirection. The governor needs to focus on finding a workable way to fill the budget hole that he created — and leave the misdirection to the real magicians.