On April 8 Gov. Bobby Jindal parked his tax-swap vehicle. He exited from the driver’s side and admitted he had been speeding.
It was a big deal.
Bystanders were so surprised, they didn’t notice when Jindal hopped into the backseat of a getaway car, tossed the keys to the Legislature, and told them to floor it. Take us to the promised land of untaxed income, he insisted.
That’s how it sounded to me, anyway.
Most of Jindal’s numerous critics have spent the past three months firing at the governor’s vehicle instead of his destination. “His plan doesn’t add up. It hurts the poor… etc.” (In my meandering, too-subtle way, I tried to rebut those easy criticisms.) They shot up the plan until it wouldn’t run.
Do we understand yet that Jindal’s so-called tax-swap plan was only a “sleeper,” to borrow a term from hotrodding’s golden age. The revenue offsets in his initial plan were always completely negotiable as long as they yielded an income tax repeal. The higher sales taxes, the closed loopholes, the appeals to simplicity … all that crap was political window-dressing. That’s why it kept changing.
Jindal’s overriding mission, though, has always remained the same: to end the state income tax. As long as that is within reach, Jindal’s “parking job” is only a tactical retreat.
His desperation to reach his goal was never more obvious than when legislators started coming up with recklessly unfunded schemes to cut the income tax. And what did Jindal do? Abandoning fiscal conservativism altogether, he encouraged them to file the whole batch with Ways and Means. The implicit message: He’d sign whatever budget-buster they cranked out, as long as it ended the income tax.
Last week, Louisiana Weekly political analyst Christopher Tidmore wrote: “Make no mistake. Jindal will end income taxes. He and his staff on the 4th Floor are resolute on that point, whatever the political cost. All that remains is the how.”
Tidmore’s observation merits reflection. Critics of Jindal’s tax swap might consider the following: If Jindal doesn’t care about the how — why devote all your energies toward criticizing plans that he is happy to change? The key question was never whether the numbers in Jindal’s plan add up, it’s why he is dead-set on the goal of state income tax repeal, at all costs.
This is a priority for Jindal, not Louisiana. It’s a policy motivated by personal ambition and couched in talking points instead of sound economics. The state deserves a better, more informed debate. Not about a particular “plan,” per se, but about Jindal’s views on economics.
In short, Jindal-nomics conform to supply-side ideology, appeal to establishment Republican kingmakers and would allow Jindal to posture as a Bayou Reagan in advance of the 2016 presidential race. That’s what he wants, and if Tidmore is right, that’s what he’ll get.
Granted, legislators effectively control Jindal’s political future. The governor overreached and is no longer in the driver’s seat. If the Legislature repeals the state income tax, Jindal can crow about it to Iowans in 2015. If the repeal effort stalls, Jindal can blame the Legislature — but his dreams of national office will have been totaled.