Gov. Jindal Offers First “No Thanks” to Stimulus Money

Since the ARRA was signed last week, there’s been a lot of discussion on whether or not governors would be willing to accept the full package of the stimulus money coming their way, with the many attached strings it brings.

Well speculate no further, as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has become the first governor to “just say no” to stimulus money, in an effort to avoid higher taxes and unsustainable spending down the road. From the Governor’s press release:

Today, Governor Bobby Jindal announced that the state will not change its law to use a part of the $787 billion federal stimulus bill that would result in an unemployment insurance tax increase on Louisiana businesses. The Governor also announced that the state will use a provision in the legislation to increase state unemployment benefits for recipients by an extra $25 per week, and reaffirmed his acceptance of the transportation funds included in the bill to fund shovel-ready transportation priorities in the state.

Governor Jindal said, “Our state is facing a serious budget situation and it would be irresponsible to enter into an expansion of benefits right now that would ultimately increase taxes on the very businesses we are working to support during these tough economic times. The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill. We must be careful and thoughtful as we examine all the strings attached to the funding in this package. We cannot grow government in an unsustainable way.

“I strongly suggest that other states also look closely at this provision in the bill so they can also avoid ultimately passing on a significant tax to businesses that will be left paying for this expansion of benefits when the federal money dries up.

“We will use those provisions, however, that help our people and our businesses in their time of need, in a way that does not add an undue burden to the current financial situation in our state. For example, we will use a part of the legislation that will increase unemployment benefits through our existing unemployment benefit system by $25 a week to recipients, and DOTD Secretary Bill Ankner has already proposed a plan for putting the federal transportation funds in the bill to work as quickly as possible. We have shovel-ready projects ready to go. We already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in one-time surplus funds in transportation projects here last year, and if the legislature agrees to a plan, these one-time federal funds will build on that critical investment.

“We are continuing to review the strings attached to the funds coming to Louisiana in this legislation. I have instructed each state agency to look closely at all the provisions in the bill.”

Explaining why expanding unemployment insurance coverage is a non-starter:

The Governor said the state will not use a portion of the stimulus package that requires the state to change its law to expand unemployment insurance (UI) coverage to qualify for up to $32.8 million of the federal stimulus funding because it ultimately would result in a tax increase on Louisiana businesses. Qualifying for the $32.8 million provision is a precondition for being considered for another $65.6 million of federal unemployment insurance funds in the federal package, which would also require permanent changes to Louisiana law and additional annual spending.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), based on claims filed during 2008, the $32.8 million would run out in under three years and from that point on, the state would be required to pass along the cost of more than $12 million a year for supporting this expansion of benefits to Louisiana businesses.

In fact, if the national economic downturn worsens its effect on Louisiana’s economy and unemployment figures increased in the state, the cost of this stimulus provision on Louisiana businesses could increase even further beyond the calculated $12 million annual price tag.

Governor Jindal said, “Increasing taxes on our Louisiana businesses is certainly not a way to stimulate our economy. It would be the exact wrong thing we could do to encourage further growth and job creation.”

Kudos to Governor Jindal for opening the door to what I hope are many more similar responses across the country.