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This week, America will glimpse a different vision for the role of government when Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, gives the Republican response to President Obama's address to Congress. Instead of more-of-the-same big government programs and deficit spending, Jindal is an innovator and reformer who is balancing the budget while cutting taxes. That approach is true change for Louisiana.
Jindal, who won election to the governorship in 2007 at age 36, has both an unusual personal history and a record of early political success. The child of Punjabi immigrants, he converted to Catholicism in high school. He is the first minority governor in Louisiana since Reconstruction, and is the first American of Indian heritage elected to a governorship in any state. He won Louisiana's open primary in convincing fashion, with 54 percent of the vote against 11 other opponents (The runner-up, with just 18 percent, was a wealthy state senator who spent $5 million of his own money.)
In his first year, the active Governor Jindal worked to pass a new political transparency law, broad tax relief, and important education and health care reforms.
While it is politically difficult to refuse stimulus money from Washington (state taxpayers are footing the bill for the stimulus so they demand the benefit), Jindal has made a stand on Obama's enormous spending bill as well, refusing the bill's temporary 3 year expansion of unemployment benefits because of the “strings attached”: a permanent increase in unemployment insurance spending for Louisiana. On Meet the Press on Sunday he declared on Obama's stimulus approach, "I think we have a fundamental disagreement here. I don't think the best way to do that is for the government to tax and borrow more money."
Health Care Policy in Baton Rogue and Washington
Jindal is trying to break out of the one-size-fits-all, Washington-centered policy world in another key area: health care reform. Few are as well qualified to bridge the policy and politics of health care reform. Jindal studied health care policy at Brown University, graduating in 1991 as a Rhodes Scholar, which allowed him to earn a masters in public policy from Oxford. In 1996, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster was impressed by Jindal's writing on health care reform and appointed him-- then just 24 years old-- to head the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH).
The DHH then controlled around 40 percent of the state budget and was nearly insolvent, but Jindal made cuts and reforms that turned a $400 million deficit into surplus. This turnaround was noticed by leaders on both sides of the aisle, and in 1998 Jindal was called to Washington, DC, to serve as Executive Director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. Upon completion of the Commission's report he returned to Louisiana to head the state's university system. Then in 2001, at age 30, Jindal was appointed to serve as an assistant secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the George W. Bush Administration.
Two years later Jindal made his first run for Louisiana governor, despite being relatively unknown, narrowly losing in a runoff in the 2003 election. The next year he ran for Congress, winning 78 percent of the vote in the race for the First Congressional District (formerly held by Rep. David Vitter, who was making a successful Senate bid.). Jindal won again in 2006 with a crushing 88 percent.
During the 2007 campaign for Governor, Jindal called for a set of health care reforms to “focus on moving Louisiana away from the one-size-fits-all model and toward a model that trusts patients and communities.” The new Jindal Administration and the state legislature are working on the “Louisiana Health First” plan to make the state's health care more effective by introducing greater competition, better technology, regulatory reform, and patient-focused care. However, many of his proposals impact Medicaid and need waivers from the Obama Administration to implement-- our hope is that the federal government will allow Louisiana to experiment with reform.
Taxes and Spending
Governor Jindal has a specific policy program to reform the Louisiana tax code and worker training systems. The Governor called a special session of the state legislature last year to address high taxes, and helped pass no fewer than seven tax cuts. At the centerpiece is the largest tax cut in Louisiana state history, a $360 million income tax cut, as well as relief on business investments, business debt, business utilities, and education expenses. Jindal's cuts have been so successful that there is now serious discussion of repealing the state income tax altogether.
Just as important, there is attention to cutting wasteful spending as well. For instance, Jindal is probably the only governor to eliminate an entire state Department in his first year on the job. He closed the state Department of Labor and is shifting responsibility for worker training programs to state universities.
Louisiana is somewhat dependent on energy prices, which have crashed, and the slowing economy is impacting the state, so budget challenges remain for Gov. Jindal. To address this, he has outlines six fiscal reforms. To save money he wants to:
Real Hope and Change in the States?
Often, the best ideas for limiting government and expanding freedom first come from the “laboratory” of innovative states. This was true of welfare reform in the 1990s and may be true of health care reform in the future. We're looking forward to seeing Gov. Jindal on the national stage this week and hope he offers a clear limited government alternative to the Left's tired, big-spending answer to every challenge.ENDNOTES
Sunday, October 21, 2007; http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/20/AR200710...
Nat'l Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare Report http://thomas.loc.gov/medicare/
Newt Gingrich, “Bobby Jindal, America's Most Transformational Governor,” Human Events, July 8, 2008, http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=27408