IT’S NOT so clear who really won Louisiana’s gubernatorial election over the weekend, Democrat John Bel Edwards, who will run the state starting next year, or Republican David Vitter, who will be spared the task of cleaning up the shambles that outgoing Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) is leaving behind. Mr. Jindal put ideological purity over prudence, the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge over good policy. The result has been, as with Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback (R), a state-level conservative experiment gone awry.
Either candidate who sought to succeed Mr. Jindal would have been an upgrade. Mr. Edwards and Mr. Vitter both rightly criticized the outgoing governor’s plans to fill massive budget gaps. The latest is a $500 million midyear hole that the state’s leaders are trying to close. It appears the “solution” will involve digging more into health-care funding and pushing some payments off into the next fiscal year — making budget imbalances the next governor’s problem.
This is the same basic budget strategy Mr. Jindal’s Louisiana has used for some time: loot the state’s rainy-day funds and other one-time sources while cutting education and other state programs. The outgoing governor’s last budget raised some revenue through cigarette taxes and other measures, but it clearly wasn’t enough given the midyear fiscal straits the state is dealing with now. While it’s true that the energy-rich state’s revenue has suffered from the drop in oil prices, Mr. Jindal’s mismanagement — optimized to appeal to voters in GOP presidential primaries — has been a major contributor to the problem.
Mr. Jindal also bears responsibility for his decision to “fight Obamacare” by refusing to accept federal funds to expand Louisiana’s Medicaid program. Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the federal government has offered to foot practically the entire bill for increasing access to the health-coverage program to very-low-income workers. Analysis after analysis in state after state has shown that there are no good reasons, beyond anti-Obamacare demagoguery, for states to reject the Medicaid expansion. In Louisiana, 192,000 people would receive access to health-care coverage. Without the expansion, these people end up with less help than do those who earn far more.
Mr. Edwards vows to make Medicaid expansion a top priority, and we hope that he will be able to negotiate an agreement with the GOP-dominated legislature to make that happen. Republican-run states such as Arkansas and Indiana have struck deals with the federal government that allow them to use Medicaid expansion funds to experiment with GOP-friendly public-private coverage health-care models. This should be on the table in Louisiana.
If, that is, Louisiana’s leaders have time to think about anything other than the state’s fiscal mess. With another budget deficit projected for next year, Mr. Edwards is promising to call a special legislative session in February, and he’s looking to raise badly needed revenue by rolling back various state tax breaks. Not yet known is how long it will take to undo the damage of the Jindal years.