Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s counter to Obama’s economics
HH: One of the individuals I’ll be introducing that night, the keynote speaker, is my next guest, from the great state of Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal. Governor, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
BJ: Hugh, thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to seeing you next week in our nation’s capitol.
HH: I’m looking forward to seeing the reporters chasing you around asking why you’re not taking the stimulus money. So let’s start there. I think this is a very important story, and I want to hear your side of it first.
BJ: You know, here’s the thing, you’re talking about temporary federal dollars that would require us to make permanent changes in state law, creating permanent new state spending obligations. Here’s what I’m talking about. When you read the stimulus bill, to take this money in the unemployment program, we would have to permanently change Louisiana’s unemployment laws, changing who’s eligible, how they become eligible, how much they get paid, and the federal money runs out. Now we’ve said that just doesn’t make sense. It’s not good for Louisiana’s taxpayers. The way that unemployment law works, this would result in a tax increase on our businesses. I’ve said from day one we will not raise taxes on our people, on our businesses. It makes no sense. It would actually hurt the economy. At first, we had a Democratic Senator come out and say well, no, you can just do a sunset clause, a temporary increase. And I said well, that’s great except that’s not what the stimulus bill says. I know it was a thousand pages, I know they passed it late at night. You know, they got it late at night and they passed it really quickly. But you read the language, and it’s very clear. You’ve got to make a permanent change in state law, you’re not allowed to sunset it, you’re not allowed to do it temporarily, you’re not allowed to do any of those things. And to me, that’s just not a good use of our taxpayer dollars. So I said we’re not going to take temporary federal dollars to create permanent state spending. We’re not going to raise taxes on Louisiana businesses. Other states have begun to say the same thing – Texas, Mississippi. It raises a bigger point about this whole stimulus package, nearly a trillion dollars in spending. And you know, I’ve been criticized for pointing out I don’t think we need to be spending a billion dollars on the Census. I don’t think we need to be spending $300 million dollars buying the federal government new cars, $50 million dollars on the National Endowment for Arts. I don’t think that’s targeted, temporary spending. If it’s legitimate spending, let it go through the normal budget process. Let it be paid for. What’s it doing in the stimulus package? Here’s the thing. They started talking about infrastructure. Less than 5% of that trillion dollars goes to infrastructure. They started talking about tax cuts, that was the one place they got cheap. That’s the one place where they actually reduced the size of this bill. What concerns me was that it looks to me like it was an excuse to pass a lot of expensive government spending that these Congressional committees have been waiting to do for years. It’s not clear to me how this grows the economy. It’s not clear to me how this is temporary, targeted spending. That’s what we were promised when the stimulus package was being debated.
HH: Now Governor Jindal, the state senator you mentioned, Eric LaFleur, now wants to encourage the state legislature to pass what the stimulus bill provided, which is an overriding resolution. Now my colleague at Chapman Law School, Ronald Rotunda, wrote a piece in the Chicago Tribune this week saying that’s just patently unconstitutional. Forget the economics of this, and I agree with your argument about permanent state obligations for temporary federal aid, the idea that they can amend the state constitution to allow a workaround of the governor is astonishing to me.
BJ: Well, I don’t know that there are a whole lot of people in Washington that have read the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. I’m not sure they really realize what’s there. But the reality is this. You’ve got a state senator down here, you’ve got the AFL-CIO, they did a march today on the Capitol today to try to disagree with my decision. You’ve got others, but the bottom line is this. Whether they pass this resolution or not, and we’re going to oppose it, and the Louisiana Association of Businesses and Industries will oppose it, National Federation of Independent Businesses is going to oppose it, but the reality is this, they would have to change unemployment law in our state for us to comply with this provision. I will veto that change. I’m not going to, it makes no sense to be raising taxes on businesses. We actually have a trust fund that’s pretty healthy, over $1.4 billion dollars in our unemployment trust fund. We don’t need federal loans. We don’t need a federal bailout. We actually, this last year, we cut our unemployment taxes and raised our benefits, because our trust fund was healthy enough to allow us to do that, and we’ve done that by working together with our employers, with the employees. It doesn’t make sense for the federal government to come in. Look, if they want to come in and try to get states to change their policies, they can try to do that. But we have the right to say no. We as governors, we as states have the right to say it doesn’t make sense for our states to take this money for us to do this. I suspect there’ll be folks that’ll try to overturn this decision, but again, I’ve got the veto power, and I’ve made it very clear. We’ll veto any change that causes an increase in taxes. It just makes no sense for me. We had another legislator today that’s saying well, we’re going to solve our budget problems by increasing cigarette taxes. We’ve had some that wanted to repeal an income tax cut we’ve made. We’ve made it very clear. We’re going to have to do more with less. Our budget’s going to cut spending by 10% overall, cut state spending about 13%, but that’s the responsible thing to do. Most families in Louisiana, in America, most companies, when they’ve got less money, they spend less. Only in Washington do they print money, borrow money and act like they can do that with immunity.
HH: Your budget also calls for 1,400 state government jobs to go away. You’re going to cut college spending by I guess about $219 million. In other words, it’s an austerity budget. I would like to know if you’ve taken the time yet, if you’ve had the time yet, to look at your unfunded pension obligations, because that’s what’s killing my home state of California, that’s what’s killing a lot of state governments across the country, and it’s a ticking time bomb at many state and local government levels that people just don’t know about.
BJ: That’s exactly right. We actually put some money aside, we dedicated some money last year towards that. It’s not a real sexy thing to do, not a lot of people really paid a lot of attention to it, but we said you know, we’ve got an opportunity to put a down payment…for us, it’s something that’s decades away, but we’ve got to start paying towards that now. I want to go back to something you said about the budget. The reality is since 2006, after the storms here in Louisiana, spending grew fairly quickly, at a very aggressive rate. Basically what we’re saying is we need a sustainable amount of government spending. We’re selling a prison up in Northeast Louisiana to the private sector who says they can operate it more efficiently. We’re going to merge a couple of adolescent hospitals in Southeast Louisiana. We’ve got some group homes where the private sector can operate it more efficiently than we can. We’re selling a nursing home in Southeast Louisiana. If the legislature adopts this budget, we’ll have eliminated at least over 3,000 funded positions. Not all of those are filled, a lot of times through retirements and attrition, you’ve got a whole lot of vacancies but that are still funded. We’re preventing agencies from backfilling those positions. You know, I make the argument we’re going back to a more sustainable level of government. We cut taxes six times last year, but we’ve made it clear the answer is not, not, I repeat not to raise taxes. The answer is not to use gimmicks to delay the day of reckoning. The time is tighten our belt. We know we’re going to have to do this this year, next year, but families and businesses do this all the time. What scares me in Washington, yeah they passed a trillion dollar stimulus plan. Then it was a $410 billion dollar appropriations bill with over 8-9,000 earmarks. And now, a $3.6 trillion dollar budget for the next year proposed by the administration. Think about this, if you agreed with every assumption they make, assume the temporary programs really are temporary and don’t become permanent, assume that the economy rebounds later this year, assume that they cut a whole lot of money in defense spending, because all of a sudden our troops are able to come home from a lot of places, assume all that. Even if you assumed all the things they want us to assume, I don’t agree with all those assumptions, but assume all that, they still predict deficits of over half a trillion dollars a year. Today, the CBO came out and said we’ve got debt of nearly $11 trillion dollars. Hugh, our kids, our grandchildren are going to pay for that. And that means inflation, that means interest rates go up, that means our currency is not going to be as valuable. Right now, our Secretary of State’s already going to the Chinese asking them to buy our Treasuries. Imagine how much worse this is going to get. This spending’s not free. And then you add on top of that, in the guise of addressing the economy, they’ve got over $600 billion dollars on undefined, ill-defined health care reform. They’re talking about cap and trade and energy taxes that could seriously decrease the amount of energy we produce domestically. What I worry about is not only this spending but some of the policies that are assumed in this budget, that are hidden in this budget. Make no mistake about it, these are huge, huge decisions about to be made in Washington that’ll have implications for our children and grandchildren. We need to have a real debate in this country about the size and the role and the cost of government. And what I worry about is under the guise of addressing the economy, they’re trying to get a lot of things done without having that debate.
HH: Now Governor, next time we’ll do health care, because you’ve got a lot of experience in that, and it’s starting to heat up. But I do want to conclude by talking a little politics with you. You gave the response to President Obama, you got banged around by a lot of critics in the media, some in the Republican Party. You’re back on the horse, obviously, talking again. What did that experience teach you if anything?
BJ: Well, a couple of things. Look, I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not nearly as good of a speaker as our president, and hat’s off to him. But I hope people will focus on the substance. You know, if people want to say great, look that governor down in Louisiana, he’s not, maybe he speaks too quickly, too slowly, I don’t have any problem with that. My skin is thick, and I don’t have any problem with that. But I hope people don’t dismiss the ideas, because it’s a very important debate we need to have in this country. Just because our president is charismatic and smart and popular doesn’t mean that we don’t need to have a real debate about the right role of government going forward, the right size of government. And what I was saying that night was that when it comes to energy policy, we believe in nuclear as well as solar and wind and more domestic production of oil and gas. We believe in all of that. When I talked about education, I talked about the school choice in initiative we did in New Orleans, and the fact that we believe in putting children first. When I talked about taxes, we believe in cutting, not raising taxes. When I talked about ethics reforms, talked about what we did in a bipartisan way in Louisiana. In other words, I was outlining an alternative, and on that night, we only knew about the trillion dollar stimulus bill. We didn’t know at that point they were going to sign the $410 billion dollar appropriations bill, an 8% increase. We didn’t know at that point they were going to propose a $3.6 trillion dollar spending bill. So what I hope people will do is look at what’s being…this is a huge shift, huge shift in the role, scope, size of government. We all need to be concerned about this. We all need to be concerned.
HH: Governor, great talking to you, I’ll see you next week in Washington, D.C., looking forward to it. Thank you, Bobby Jindal.
End of interview.