Posted by The Times-Picayune editorial staff December 02, 2008
In his inaugural address, Gov. Bobby Jindal spoke eloquently about our state government’s history of mediocrity, promising that his administration would mark “a new beginning.”
We can build, the governor said, “a Louisiana where incompetence is not a synonym for government.”
He is delivering on that promise in many aspects of his administration. But incompetent is still the way to describe the state’s failure to build a single Katrina cottage two years after landing $74.5 million in federal money for them.
All Louisiana has done so far is make Mississippi look like a million bucks. Our neighbor to the east, which got funding for its cottage program at the same time, has put occupants in 2,818 units.
That’s an embarrassing number next to Louisiana’s “0” — and that’s something Gov. Jindal needs to change.
The governor has already accomplished more efficient government in many important state functions, such as the state’s response to disasters. He has also held some administration officials accountable for their failures, as he did when the Department of Social Services botched an emergency food stamp program after Hurricane Gustav.
Why is the governor tolerating incompetence when it comes to the Katrina cottages?
This editorial page has been among the harshest critics of Louisiana’s bureaucracy-loving approach to the cottages. We tried persuasion, shame and even ridicule seeking to nudge Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration into action. Nothing worked.
When he took office, Gov. Jindal took the program away from the hapless state housing agency and put the Louisiana Recovery Authority in charge. Yet no cottage was built, and in October Gov. Jindal declared that “unacceptable.”
Here we are two months later, and his administration still hasn’t built a cottage. That’s unacceptable. The governor ought to give the program’s uncommitted funds to proven organizations that can build cottages and deliver them to individual private sites — as Mississippi has done.
We can easily think of two such entities: Habitat for Humanity, which has completed dozens of homes in the Musicians’ Village, and actor Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation, which has finished several homes in the Lower 9th Ward. Maybe Louisiana can even recruit the officials who have led the cottage effort in Mississippi and put them in charge here.
This is more than an issue of state pride. As Gov. Jindal said in his inaugural address, the poor image of our state government has cost us in the past.
“Those stereotypes cost us credibility. They cost us investment. They cost us jobs,” he said, correctly.
That’s the real problem with inexcusable failures like the cottage program. It was a mess that Gov. Jindal inherited, but this mess is now his administration’s. It’s up to him to fix it.