Applied Snake Oil: Bobby Jindal, GOP Govs Destroy Their States

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If only Bobby Jindal had known about Plato, Louisiana might not be in this fix.

Every time Plato tried to apply the basic principles of his Republic to real cities in the Greek world, the students he appointed as philosopher-kings invariably devolved into self-dealing tyrants. Despite this empirical evidence that his pet political theories were totally wrong, Plato never changed his mind, and his words are still basic reading for every introductory philosophy class in the western world.

Something like that is happening with conservative economic orthodoxy, because every time a Republican governor applies the tax-cutting, wage-suppressing, budget-trimming approach, it destroys their state’s finances — yet the think tanks, lobbying organizations, bill mills, and ‘conservative principles’ of austerity theology refuse to die their well-deserved deaths.

Look at how Sam Brownback ruined Kansas. After cutting taxes on business and investment, a huge hole somehow appeared in his state budget right where his mystic incantations of the Laffer Curve were supposed to have produced a mountain of cash. Forced to close schools early, Brownback acknowledges the situation is “unsustainable” and calls on his legislature to face “difficult solutions” — none of which raise taxes, of course.

Minnesota is an even better example. It’s easy to forget Tim Pawlenty, who prided himself on being “the first true fiscal conservative” in the state’s gubernatorial history. On that basis, he created a $6 billion budget deficit, refused to raise the minimum wage, and added only about 6,000 jobs.

His Democratic successor has raised the minimum wage, raised the state income tax on people making more than $150,000, and created more than 170,000 jobs as well as a $2 billion budget surplus.

His faith in voodoo economics apparently shaken, Pawlenty now tells fellow Republicans they should support “reasonable” minimum wage increases.

And then there’s Bobby Jindal, who cut taxes and refused to raise them again while he was governor of Louisiana. Instead, Jindal used BP settlement money, federal Katrina aid, and budget cuts to hide the giant hole he had made in state finances. The Ponzi scheme cut higher education funding in half, put 30,000 state employees on the unemployment line, and fell apart after the oil and gas industry declined due to low prices.

Faced with “a historic fiscal crisis,” his successor, Democrat John Bel Edwards, has been forced to make even more painful cuts.

Louisiana now stands at the brink of economic disaster. Without sharp and painful tax increases in the coming weeks, the government will cease to offer many of its vital services, including education opportunities and certain programs for the needy. A few universities will shut down and declare bankruptcy. Graduations will be canceled. Students will lose scholarships. Select hospitals will close. Patients will lose funding for treatment of disabilities. Some reports of child abuse will go uninvestigated.

“Doomsday,” said Marketa Garner Walters, the head of Louisiana’s Department of Children & Family Services. If the state can’t raise any new revenue, her agency’s budget, like several others, will be slashed 60 percent.

“At that level,” she said in an interview, “the agency is unsustainable.”

The mess is so bad that Edwards may end up having to cancel LSU’s football season, while the president of the university says half the team might become ineligible anyway if the school is forced to close in April, before the semester ends. To most southerners, this is an unimaginable situation, perhaps even apocalyptic. LSU has never canceled an entire season before, not even in the deepest doldrums of World War II or the Great Depression.

Bobby Jindal is a feature of conservative economics, not a bug. Our next great national fiscal crisis will probably emerge from red states rather than Wall Street.

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