Louisiana has been hit by a double whammy: there’s the recession, and oil and gas prices are down. As new tax breaks kick in, the state’s revenues are likely to drop further in the coming year.
Governor Bobby Jindal, the conservative that he is, is opposed to raising taxes to make up the shortfall. But the state is required to balance its budget. Jindal’s solution: belt-tightening, something he has said President Barack Obama should have prescribed for the nation.
In budget proposals released Friday, the Indian-American governor, who’s seen as a potential Republican presidential candidate, recommended big cuts in health-care and higher education programmes. His plan also calls for eliminating more than 1,400 jobs, of which 1,100 are vacant.
The proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2010, which begins July 1, totals $26.7 billion, a drop of nearly 10 per cent from the current year.
Jim Brown, a former state official, suggests that Jindal look east — to fast-growing India — for ways to boost the economy. Jindal, Brown writes in his web and print column, could do a Gary Locke. Locke, a Chinese-American who is Obama’s pick for commerce secretary, led several trade missions to China when he was governor of Washington state.
Brown sees a good fit between India and Louisiana. “India needs to import various petroleum-based products including synthetic rubber imports and a vast array of chemicals and chemical-related goods including synthetic fertilisers. Louisiana of course has the largest concentration of chemical plants in the nation.” Coal, he says, is another need Louisiana can meet.
While other US states are also seeking inroads into India, Louisiana has an edge, Brown says. “Jindal does have an ace up his sleeve .... Indian officials are certainly aware of Bobby Jindal’s high national profile and are just as aware of his heritage.”
Brown, a Democrat, served as state senator, secretary of state and insurance commissioner. In 2000 he was charged with rigging a settlement in favour of an insurance company. He was cleared of those charges but was convicted of lying to an FBI agent and spent six months in prison. He has maintained his innocence.