Jindal credits Louisiana’s economic revival to a tax plan he initially opposed

The would-be president is searching for accomplishments as governor that he can tout.

Gage Skidmore

The would-be president is searching for accomplishments as governor that he can tout.

In a recent interview posted on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s blog, Gov. Bobby Jindal was asked what he would tell the rest of America about Louisiana. Here’s what he said:

“In Louisiana, we enacted the largest income tax cut in our state’s history … The results are clear: Our economy’s grown 50 percent faster than the national economy. We have more people working now than ever before.”

Yes, sir! That’s what happened. Any Louisianan could tell you as much: Jindal cut income taxes and state growth surged. All that capital that would’ve been confiscated by the state government remained with job creators in the private sector who invested it in the efficient marketplace. Now we’re booming.

I think I saw a feral hog flying over the treetops.

Jindal is of course mangling history to appeal to his new constituents — Republican primary voters nationwide. He has the moxie to refer to the Stelly tax repeal of 2008 as though it changed the course of the state’s economic history. He doesn’t mention that he did not initially support the repeal. He eventually backed it only to stave off a surprise move  to repeal the state’s income taxes altogether. Then he pushed the Legislature to delay the Stelly tax repeal’s implementation. In one blogger’s words, Jindal supported the repeal “only after he had the bejesus scared out of him by some real conservatism.”

Now, as he runs his (as yet unannounced) proto-presidential campaign, Jindal credits the dips and turns that led to the unintended Stelly repeal as the prime cause of our state’s economic growth.

Bizarre, but predictable.

I’ll take part of the blame. See, a year ago Gov. Bobby Jindal was down and out. His poll numbers were in the toilet, His tax swap proposal — income tax abolition married to a sky-high sales tax — was on the ropes, and the state unemployment rate was rising. Pundits were hammering him from the left and right, and his dream of being elected president never looked more remote. It appeared he could use a friend, and I felt sorry for him.

So I came to his defense, and listed economic wins that betokened an economic growth spurt for New Orleans and Louisiana. Then I dared to defend Jindal’s tax plan from its critics (many of whom were former supporters of the governor).

I guess I didn’t do a good enough job, and his tax swap idea was strangled in its crib.

Granted, most of my apologia for Jindal was tongue in cheek, but that was the only way I could see to do it. No serious defense of the governor’s tax plan was possible. It was a ridiculous, slapdash effort, replete with bogus math, and forced on an electorate that hadn’t asked for it.

Too few pundits recognized the essence of the plan as purely political. The swap —  a mess of warmed over supply-side economic hooey — was merely a vehicle for the all-important income tax cut, which Jindal dreamed of being able to tout when he later ran for president as a “Bayou Reagan.”

Reasonable people might wonder why, if the income tax cut was so crucial, Jindal didn’t just embrace a full repeal in 2008? At the time, state Rep. Cameron Henry, R-Jefferson, said the state had “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to eliminate the state income tax. Why didn’t Jindal take it? Simply put, he didn’t have the guts. He was scared the budgetary and economic fallout would make him a one-term governor. Much better to pass it in his second term — especially with an economic uptick on the horizon — then let his successor deal with the huge deficits likely to result.

To be a GOP presidential contender you must pledge to cut taxes and never raise them. That puts you in the good graces of party kingmaker Grover Norquist. Every positive economic development subsequent to the tax cut gets credited to it. (Negative developments are ignored or blamed on liberals.) This is the GOP economic orthodoxy: growth must follow tax cuts — no matter what the facts may be. No matter that the trickle-down mantra was discredited decades ago. A new generation, including Jindal, has accepted it.

To run for president, Jindal has to dance to Norquist’s tune while singing the ridiculous “I cut taxes and then growth happened” ditty. After his tax swap failed, he knew he wouldn’t have an opportunity to cut them again until 2015 — which would nicely coincide with a rebound in shale gas extraction, smack dab in the middle of the presidential campaign season. In the wake of his tax swap’s failure, he had to reach back to find another tax cut he could call his own.

As he pursues his (unannounced) campaign for president, Jindal will be doing everything possible to get on national media in coming months. Expect to hear a lot of chatter from him about conservative principles and winning the war of ideas. But with national media comes national punditry, and soon the big boys will be taking note that when Jindal’s principles were tested in 2008, he had to be cornered into supporting the watered-down tax cut that he now credits with triggering the state’s economic boom. He has to do this embarrassing ideological contortion because he lost the “war of ideas” in his home state.


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