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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Governor candidates talk budget, taxes, without David Vitter

Governor candidates talk budget, taxes, without David Vitter

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — With one of their major rivals absent, three candidates vying to be Louisiana's next governor talked on Wednesday night about the tax plans they would consider to end cycles of budget woes in the state.

Republican Scott Angelle, Republican Jay Dardenne and Democrat John Bel Edwards, meeting in a statewide televised debate, each suggested they'd comb through the state's more than $7 billion list of tax breaks and start looking for ways to trim that spending.

GOP U.S. Sen. David Vitter didn't attend, citing his work in Washington.
At the debate, only Dardenne, the state's lieutenant governor, suggested that he would consider raising personal income taxes to fill budget gaps — though he stressed that wouldn't be his first approach.

"I think we have an obligation to consider everything and to lay out to the people of Louisiana what their options are," Dardenne said, after saying he'd first seek to shrink government agencies.

Edwards, a state representative from Tangipahoa Parish, said he would seek to lower income taxes in exchange for getting rid of tax breaks that allow people to take deductions for federal income taxes paid and for certain itemized expenses.

"I would cap every tax credit and every tax rebate to make sure we know what they're going to cost and so we can budget accordingly," Edwards said, without providing a cap amount.

Angelle, a member of the Public Service Commission from Breaux Bridge, said the state needs to create a tax break review panel. By doing a cost-benefit analysis and getting rid of exemptions deemed to have little benefit, Angelle said, more money would stay in the state treasury.

"We have gotten drunk on giving away the people's money," he said.

Louisiana has careened from budget crisis to budget crisis in recent years, with public colleges taking the brunt of the slashing.

Asked to provide details about tax breaks they would seek to ratchet down, Dardenne and Edwards supported lessening a tax break given to the oil and gas industry for horizontal drilling, though they acknowledged savings would be small.

Dardenne also supported continuing a cap on Louisiana's film tax credit, though with a reworked approach. Angelle didn't list individual tax breaks.

When pushed to describe cuts they would make, Edwards returned to the tax breaks, saying those "tax expenditures" should be reduced to help shore up funding for public colleges and health care services.
"A cuts-only approach for seven years has not worked," he said.

Dardenne said he would lessen spending in the governor's office and would pay smaller salaries to top Cabinet officials. Any savings, he said, would be directed to higher education. But he added: "We're not going to be able to make it whole right off the bat. It's been cut too much."

Each of the candidates said they would keep intact a sweeping change enacted by term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal that turned over operations of most of the LSU public hospital system to private operators.

They disagreed on how to approach the more than $280 million TOPS free college tuition program.
Edwards and Angelle said they don't support capping the tuition payments to students or changing eligibility standards. Dardenne supported a proposal to require lawmakers to vote on whether they want to increase TOPS payments each year, a cost control Dardenne said would help ensure the program's future.

In a more personal moment, asked to describe a difficult time as a parent, Edwards said he and his wife rejected a doctor's advice to have an abortion when they learned their daughter had spina bifida. He said "our Catholic Christian faith did not allow that."
"I cannot imagine our world without Samantha," he said.

With five children, Angelle joked that "having four teenagers in the house at one time has been a blur, and all of it has been challenging."

There was little mention of Vitter at the debate, though Dardenne did accuse the senator of running "many, many false ads" attacking candidates.

Vitter has participated in only one of the three TV debates aired so far.

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