These days, Bobby Jindal is grasping at every straw he can to help his all-but-dead campaign for the Republican presidential nomination gain traction. From demanding today at a Heritage Foundation event that House and Senate Republicans ditch the Affordable Care Act and implement an alternate healthcare plan, to floating a quixotic plan to end the nation’s dependence on oil on Monday, to his continuing desperate effort to halt execution of Common Core reading and math standards he once strongly supported, the once-respectable Louisiana governor is doing all he can to win over movement conservatives and moderate Republicans needed to gain the nod.

statelogoYet you won’t find Jindal talking much about addressing the long-term defined-benefit pension and unfunded retired civil servant healthcare costs that are now burdening the balance sheets of every state government. For good reason. Jindal has done almost nothing to address the Bayou State’s massive pension deficits. Two years ago, the Pew Center on the States reported that the Bayou State’s collection of pensions were only 56 percent funded. Because of the state’s fiscal fecklessness — along with the high costs of the deals it made with local governments and public-sector unions — the state was faced with paying down $51 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, along with another $10 billion in unfunded retired civil servant healthcare costs (for which Jindal and his predecessors have put away no money to cover). Moody’s Investors Service determined last year that the state’s pension shortfalls, when accurately determined, were 30 percent greater than revenue. Even with such high-profile spankings, Jindal, along with his colleagues in state government, have still done nothing to address the problem.

To see how badly Jindal has handled the Bayou State’s long-term fiscal woes, just look at the latest comprehensive annual financial report for the Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana, the defined-benefit pension for teachers and other school employees.

The pension officially reports an underfunding of $$11,.3 billion for 2012-2013. Based on the official numbers, the insolvency is 72 percent higher than the $6.6 billion it reported in 2007-2008, the year Jindal took office. Just on these numbers alone, it is clear that Jindal, along with his colleagues in the state legislature and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, have done little to reverse the pension’s tenuous status as a going concern.

But as with most state pensions, TRSL is understating the level of its insolvency. For one, thanks to the pension’s smoothing efforts (which allow it to recognize gains and losses over a five year period), only a fifth of its losses were recognized and counted against liabilities. More importantly, TRSL assumes an overly inflated rate of investment growth of eight percent. This in spite of its own admission that it has only achieved a five-year return rate of just 4.8 percent on its investments, which, by the way, is lower than the 5.2 percent five-year return rate Wilshire Associates says has been experienced by the financial markets. The pension admits that its assets (on an actuarial basis) decreased by 5.4 percent between 2008 and 2013, even as its benefit payouts increased by 30 percent (from $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion) in that time.

To get to the true level of TRSL’s insolvency, Dropout Nation uses a version of a technique developed by Moody’s Investors Service, which assumes a more-realistic 5.5 percent rate of a return. [Moody’s bases its rate of return on the performance of a bond index, which can range between four and six percent.] Based on those numbers, TRSL’s true insolvency is likely $15.4 billion, or 36 percent higher than officially reported. If Louisiana state government was forced to make up the shortfall over 17 years, taxpayers would have to contribute an additional $905 million a year, or 92 percent more than the $984 million paid into the pension last year. This, in turn, would have meant that the state would have had to carve out an additional three percent of its $29.7 billion budget just to shore up the pension.

For Louisiana, addressing TRSL’s insolvency is especially critical because more Baby Boomers in the teaching ranks are heading into retirement. Each year, 1,602 Bayou State teachers covered by TRSL have retired every year between 2004 and 2013, according to a Dropout Nation analysis. Each retiree, on average, collects an annual annuity of $24,358. [Four-point-eight percent of them, or 2,899 retired teachers and school leaders, are collecting annual annuities of $54,000 a year or more.] So TRSL can easily expect to pay out at least an additional $39 million a year — and even that is an understatement: The pension paid out $92 million in new annuities last year thanks to the retirement of 3,095 teachers and other school workers.

Certainly Jindal, who only holds one seat on TRSL’s 17-member board through the state department of administration, can’t take all the responsibility for its woeful condition. After all, the Bayou State legislature holds two seats on the pension’s board (as well as exercise ultimate control over its finances through appropriations and budgeting), while State Treasurer John Kennedy also sits on the board. They, along with Supt. John White, who sits on the board (as well as predecessors including former state education boss Paul Pastorek), must join the governor in taking responsibility for its virtual insolvency.

Yet Jindal can’t be let off the hook. As seen in his effort to halt Common Core implementation, as well as with his more-laudable efforts to expand the Bayou State’s school voucher program, Jindal has been more than willing to aggressively take on issues, especially if it also helps his ambitions of higher elected office. The fact that Jindal has done little more than sign into law House Bill 61, which would have put new state’s higher ed employees into a cash-balance pension plan before it was struck down by the state supreme court, shows how little Jindal cares about addressing the very fiscal issues that, along with education, can make the difference between Louisiana emerging as a leading state and it continuing its woeful position as the worst in everything that matters.

Jindal still has a little time left in office to take on pension reform in a meaningful way. One solution must start with increasing the contributions paid by current workers into the pension. Teachers contribute just 25 cents out of every dollar contributed into TRSL in 2013; this is eight cents lower than the contribution level in 2008. Increasing teacher contributions to at least 37 cents of every dollar put into the pension — the level of contribution made by teachers a decade ago — would at least be a good start.

But it won’t be enough because increasing contribution levels alone doesn’t reduce the growth in unfunded liabilities that comes with additional retirements. This will only come if Louisiana takes an even bigger step: Moving existing and new teachers out of TRSL and putting them into a hybrid plan that features a defined-contribution element into which they can save as much as they choose for retirement. Certainly Jindal will have to work hard to rally the two-thirds support in the legislature needed for passing such a plan. But he could work with his likely successor as governor, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, to make it a reality.

For Louisiana, school districts, and ultimately, taxpayers and children, this move would immediately slow the growth in TRSL’s liabilities. It is also beneficial for younger teachers. Given that half of them are likely to leave the profession within their first five years, moving to a portable hybrid retirement plan would actually allow them to reap the full rewards of their work.

The Bayou State faces a pension crisis nearly as daunting as its educational woes. But if Jindal is serious about leaving office with some kind of a legacy worth having, especially in light of how his counterproductive battle to halt Common Core implementation has ruined him politically, he should tackle it with vigor.