Who says brainy, high-I.Q. types can’t be stunningly obtuse? Or cold-hearted?

We were already highly irritated with Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, by some accounts an educated man, for supporting and signing the creationist, Orwellian-named Louisiana Academic Freedom Act, a law that officially weakens the teaching of evolution and now punishes New Orleans as a national science association sadly announces it would rather meet in Salt Lake City (!) than convene its 2,300 members in an anti-science state.

In today’s G.O.P., a governor with presidential ambitions is a curse that we would not wish on any state.

Now, Jindal says he’ll reject $98 million from the recently passed economic stimulus bill that would go to extend unemployment insurance for up to 25,000 Louisianans.

Gov. Jindal is ready for his close-up, raising his national profile as one of several “principled conservative” Republican governors (with presidential ambitions) who say they’ll refuse federal funding from the stimulus bill. He appears today on Meet the Press and on Tuesday night—the night of Mardi Gras, as it happens—he’ll present the G.O.P.’s rebuttal to President Obama’s address to the nation about the state of the economy. (See “GOP Calls on Exorcist to Break Obama Spell” at People Get Ready, and the Daily Kingfish’s account of Jindal’s claim to powers of exorcism.)

Louisiana unemployment benefits are already below the national average. As of 2006, the weekly maximum benefit was $258—the national average in 2006 was $277/wk—and the potential duration of benefits was 21 to 26 weeks (no more than half year). Louisiana’s unemployment rate has risen to 5.9%, with about 122,000 jobless. Now help is on the way, right?

The stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) has three provisions for unemployed workers. One provides funds for states willing to allow a $25-per-week increase in unemployment benefits. (Jindal will accept this.) The second provision extends the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program that gives 20 weeks of federally funded benefits to the jobless who have already received all the state unemployment benefits they’re entitled to. (Jindal says no.) A third provision widens the pool of unemployed eligible to receive benefits. (Jindal says no.)

As the Times-Picayune’s Jan Moller explains, “At issue are two pots of federal money that states can access only if they agree to change their laws to make it easier for unemployed workers to qualify for benefits.

To access the first pot of money, worth $32.8 million over 27 months, Louisiana would have to offer benefits to workers who have held jobs for as little as three months before becoming unemployed. Workers now have to hold a job for at least a year before they are eligible to collect unemployment. (“Jindal Rejects $98 Million in Stimulus Spending,” Times-Picayune, Feb. 20, 2009)

Jindal is not rejecting all of the stimulus money coming to Louisiana, but he is turning down $98 million that he disingenuously claims would result in tax increases for businesses and would require that the state legislature amend a law to allow it to accept the money. “You’re talking about temporary federal spending triggering a permanent change in state law,” said Jindal. (Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu disputes this claim; the unemployment benefits are designed to be temporary.)

While a reasonable person might expect a state facing a $2.1 billion deficit to welcome any financial assistance available, the Jindal administration seems to be looking for reasons to reject the money. (The G.O.P. is watching.)

This “fiscal discipline” posturing is beyond frustrating. Activists work hard at pushing the government to spend more on infrastructure and social programs to alleviate suffering and disrepair caused by official neglect. Now, when money is actually available, the governor of a poor, ravaged state thinks first of his own political ambitions. This makes us worry about the effect this “principled” refusal will have on efforts to secure additional federal funding in the future. (Your governor said you didn’t need help—so why come to us now?)

Governor Jindal, if you are so concerned about taking care of business, you might consider that, in addition to relieving your unemployed citizens’ financial distress, extending unemployment benefits will also put money in the pocket of people who can then spend money at these businesses. Do you put ideology and personal ambition above your people’s need to eat and pay rent? Perhaps you cynically assume the public is too passive and disorganized to protest? (See below.)

Governor Jindal, your Rhodes Scholar intelligence and grasp of policy could be a force for good, precisely when there are positive forces in Washington that could provide the help Louisiana so badly needs. Just when there’s a pragmatic president who is genuinely trying to move beyond partisan gridlock—as he did in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate—you oppose his efforts. Precisely when your party is out of ideas, with no clear purpose, you as a young and energetic governor could be a leader for renewal and revival and fiscal discipline—if you directed your energies toward solutions that involve helping your people by spending, developing education (including science), health care (including Charity Hospital), and so on. Please, don’t let your ambitions be a curse to your state. The party you seek to lead has been no friend of Louisiana in recent years. You can change that. You can at least try.

We know you won’t, but we want you to remember the choice you left behind, along with your hard-pressed people.

We’ll see how you are rewarded, how you’re remembered.

Maybe one day you’ll be out of a job.


Contact Gov. Jindal’s office here

or call 225-342-7015 or 866-366-1121 (toll-free)
Fax: 225-342-7099