Saved by the Hurricane

With the Hurricane Katrina money all spent and the exhaustion of one-time tricks to balance the budget, it was starting to look like Louisiana pols would have to get serious about addressing the state’s shaky fiscal underpinnings, but then Hurricane Isaac came along to reopen the federal government money spigot and the good times are about to roll again in the Bayou State. 

The deluge of federal money expected to pour in for disaster recovery efforts from Hurricane Isaac will allow Bobby Jindal to continue his charade as a conservative politician as he papers over the huge budget holes left by years of overreliance on natural resources as the basis for state revenue. Jindal can continue his quest for national office while appearing for all the world like a conservative champion despite the lack of opportunities that continue to plague the state under his supposedly reformist regime. Bobby’s friends can continue to rely on their oversized state salaries without fear that pesky budget problems may cause concern in the legislature. Stephen Moret can slide in easily as the new head of LSU without fear that his past failures as head of Louisiana Economic Development will come back to haunt him. Anyone remember him bailing out the chicken plant in Farmerville to the tune of $65 million so they could turn around and hire Arkansas chicken farmers? Or how about his backing of the V Vehicle scam long past the time when everyone else knew it was a fraud? A picture of a headlight? Really?

Just about the time when it becomes painfully obvious that state finances need to undergo critical restructuring to broaden the tax base and spending on unnecessary programs needs to be reined in while modernizing the delivery of state services, the heavens open up and deliver a gift to Louisiana politicians in the form of another hurricane. The media immediately rushes in to portray the human misery aspect of flooded homes knowing that people are loathe to turn away from their secret schadenfreude of human misfortune. Calculating pols then attempt to translate this misfortune into support at the polls through the benevolence of the federal government and Louisiana is once again let off of the hook of addressing its systemic fiscal problems. Meanwhile, job opportunities continue to slip away as businesses choose to locate in states with much friendlier tax climates and less overt forms of corruption that are employed to shake them down.

Louisiana politicians going back to Huey Long have long cultivated a culture of populism to stoke class warfare and soak those businesses forced to locate in the state to take advantage of our abundance of natural resources. This tradition of soaking the productive to balance the budget is the reason most businesses avoid Louisiana like the plague and why most of her college graduates immediately depart for friendlier employment climes such as Texas. No doubt Hurricane Isaac will hasten the departure of more educated Louisianans to make room for the laborers required to clean up the damage left in her wake. The state will grow less educated, less prosperous, and less desirable as a destination to live, work, or retire. The one bright spot in Louisiana employment, the abundance of reality shows, may continue to attract new episodes as the more colorful of our citizens continue to come to the attention of an industry dedicated to serving an entertainment-starved nation that has overdosed on leisure time and escape from reality (their reality, not ours).

The misery endured by those recovering from Hurricane Isaac is truly heartbreaking, especially when considered in light of the fact that life for these same people had just begun to return to normal after Hurricane Katrina. It appears the only lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina is for the governor to appear before the cameras in an intense pose with casual clothes suggesting his ability to jump into the midst of recovery efforts. He should always appear concerned and look like he is in total command of the situation while demeaning federal efforts to assist and demanding more federal money as fast as possible to alleviate the suffering so obvious to all watching the news conference. Once again, the citizens of Louisiana get used for the benefit of those who wish to get elected and who care nothing for their suffering except as a photo opportunity to be replayed in campaign ads designed to show their concern.

Those not directly affected by the storm will continue to suffer neglect as attention is focused on the coast along with the fallout of higher insurance premiums and building permit fees designed to address problems we in the northern part of the state don’t face. The building permits rushed into law after Katrina were sold with the support of the insurance industry by whom we were told required these to continue writing policies in Louisiana. However, they’ve now turned into just another opportunity for corruption and graft by those charged with their enforcement. Witness the fast track approval of the New Living Word Ministries School expansion when it looked like they were about to lose out on lucrative charter school vouchers and employed their political connections through state senator Rick Gallot to secure the necessary building and operating permits in record time.

So with Hurricane Isaac’s arrival and departure, Louisiana has been thrown yet another fiscal lifeline to continue doing business as usual while her citizens continue to suffer from the fallout of lost opportunity, crony capitalism, and political corruption. The educated continue to emigrate and grandparents continue to miss their grandkids. Populism remains entrenched and the only change is the banner under which it’s preserved which has now become Republican. Bobby Jindal continues to appear conservative while the money pouring in from the federal government allows him to buy just enough silence to convince those outside Louisiana to believe his hyperbole. Ah, such is the tempo of life in the Bayou State.

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