Governor Bobby Jindal, Flip-Flopper Extraordinaire

After criticizing high-speed rail, Louisiana’s governor submitted a preliminary application for federal funds. Now, after being criticized for his hypocrisy, Bobby Jindal changes his mind once again.

Just last month, Louisiana informed the Federal Railroad Administration that it would request funds for a $300 million high-speed link between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The final application was due today — but Mr. Jindal has now decided not to submit it, citing concerns that the line would not be self-sustaining. Considering the general attitude of the American right, however, it seems reasonable to suggest that the governor’s decision was motivated more by an attempt to save face in front of his conservative allies than by a fiscal argument.

In his televised Republican response to the President’s State of the Union address in February, Mr. Jindal focused his aim at high-speed rail, arguing that it was “larded.” Like most modern conservatives, the governor has made a point to claim that virtually any government spending is wasteful, no matter its actual value; in other words, public expenditures are almost always bad, private involvement is almost always good. That anti-interventionist position, inspired by an obsessive adherence to Ronald Reagan’s legacy, has provided the principal ideological backbone to today’s GOP. But as Paul Krugman put it in today’s Times, Reaganomics has failed to improve the relative economic situation of the vast majority of U.S. citizens, while making the super-rich wealthier than ever.

I should note that Republican objections to government spending extend to almost everything, but the party does seem willing to increase expenditures on highways and the military.

Thus it was a surprise when Mr. Jindal suggested that he would ask for high-speed rail funds from the stimulus. Perhaps it was no surprise either that the governor has now reneged on his commitment, though the Louisiana Department of Transportation claims that the decision was non-political, based on the state’s unwillingness to subsidize a rail line in the future. That explanation, however, is hard to believe; prior to this action, local officials were given the impression that they would be asked to help find the funds for the corridor’s operations. The President of the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce apparently plans to ask the state to reconsider its decision.

Mr. Jindal’s actions put serious holes in the suggestion that spending on infrastructure such as high-speed rail can be a bipartisan goal. The Transport Index I published last week suggests the same, showing that Senate members of the GOP are overwhelmingly anti-investment. Republican opposition to every aspect of the Democratic agenda is becoming increasing clear, and U.S. involvement in high-speed rail could become a rallying point for criticism. Already, conservative commentators are zeroing in onthe triumph of fantasy over fact” that they think trains represent, without fully considering the advantages of rail investment.

To suggest that high-speed rail will become a lighting rod for criticism — especially by rural or suburban GOP legislators, who see little gain for their constituents and who gasp at the suggestion that any government program might be expanded — seems evident. If the Republicans regain control of the Congress in the 2010 midterms, hopes for an bettered U.S. train system will be dashed on the tracks.

9 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Loren Petrich

    So there’s a risk that the teabaggers will get manipulated into directing their attentions at high-speed-rail plans.

    Obama wants to help get non-NEC HSR started, but he also wants healthcare reform, and he’s been directing much of his efforts toward that. Success in healthcare reform would help improve his political position, at least if it was not a Pyrrhic victory for him. It would also make the teabaggers seem less-than-effective.

    But even if he’s less-than-successful, he may still turn to HSR as a way of making his mark, though it will be more of a struggle for him.

  • EngineerScotty

    HSR development is probably much more politically doable than health care reform, in any case.

  • jon

    this is just like palin refusing a portion of stimulus that was then overturned as soon as she when awol

    sorry scotty but thats not saying much

    hsr will be hard to do without it coming across as something only for blue states. and louisiana’s line was one of the better red state lines.

  • Woody

    The New Orleans-Baton Rouge line certainly makes sense for some level of passenger rail. Baton Rouge has grown much larger since Katrina, and most of those newcomers keep their emotional, familial, cultural, and business ties to N’awlins. That new line would contribute to the renewal of New Orleans. It could help tourism in New Orleans and especially in Baton Rouge.

    In addition, the new route could feed traffic to whatever becomes of the Sunset Limited routes to Houston and Mobile and points beyond, as well as supporting the Crescent and the City of New Orleans.

    Perhaps best of all, the N.O.-B.R. line could be the first leg of a line extending on to Alexandria-Shreveport-Longview-Dallas-Fort Worth, and possibly beyond to Abilene-Odessa-El Paso-L.A.

    Such a line would benefit all of Louisiana and much of Texas. Shreveport’s riverboat casinos could really gain from a rail connection to the huge Dallas-Ft Worth market. The stretch from Longview to Dallas already served by the Texas Eagle could grow into a popular corridor when service grows beyond once-a-day frequency. Dallas could become something of a rail hub with connections to the Texas Eagle and the Heartland Flyer meeting east-west routes reaching to L.A. and Orlando.

    But poor Bobby Jindal doesn’t dare be For any government action that could benefit his state or region, because he is trapped in the Party of No.

  • Glen

    This point is why we need 2009 transportation bill passed and with reforms so that HSR is given equal treatment as
    a choice for each state to pursue if they so choose..if not they can use that money elswhere ,,but dont block HSR for some Red/Blue game

  • Adam

    A lot of Republicans in the house see the value of HSR, so at least that’s good. The thing is the Republican leadership is so fixated on opposition for opposition’s sake that they’re lost in a time warp. With your report, the Fearsome Four (Mark Sanford, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Jindal) join with the Sad Seven (the seven senators you mentioned as regressive in transportation reform) to form the Evil Eleven. I might want to add Michelle Bachmann and numerous other congresspeople (I’d like a list of congresspeople that really need to go as well).

  • EngineerScotty

    Keep in mind that the Evil Eleven is now down to the Terrible Ten, with the resignation of Governor Palin (who makes a lot of noise but is currently not in a position of any real authority), and if and when Sanford resigns, we’ll be down to the Naughty Nine.

  • Someone needs to help NOLA leave the state of Louisiana. Barring that, we need the feds to help meet us more than halfway, because you see what we get with LA’s elected leadership.

    BTW, the proposed corridor between BR and NOLA is actually awful, as far as transit planning goes. BR shouldn’t even be on an HSR line–it should go directly from NOLA to Houston, with BR as a spur (and only if an Illinois-Central line ever comes into existence should it be on any larger HSR route).

    Jindal continues to put his own aspiration ahead of the needs of the citizens of LA, especially, New Orleanians.

  • Jeff, the only good ROW from NOLA to Houston is I-10, which passes through BR. It’s the larger HSR system to the north that would miss BR, which is not on the I-55 or City of New Orleans corridor.

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