Louisiana candidates urged to ‘reset’ conversation on policy

Louisiana News

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Trying to move Louisiana’s election year conversation from political rhetoric to policy ideas, three government watchdog groups are calling on candidates for governor and legislative jobs to lay out details about what they want to do in office.

The nonpartisan groups — the Committee of 100, the Council for A Better Louisiana and the Public Affairs Research Council — launched a campaign called RESET Louisiana’s Future , with ideas aimed at improving education, infrastructure and state tax structure.

Leaders of the groups said Friday they’re planning digital ads, visiting with candidates and preparing to travel the state pitching the proposals to the public in town hall meetings and chamber of commerce events.

“We’re tired of being 50th, 49th, 48th, whatever that number is. We can do better. Louisiana has too many assets to be last,” Committee of 100 CEO Michael Olivier told reporters at an event to discuss the public policy effort.

The RESET organizations see an opportunity to frame the debates because of high turnover in the state House and Senate amid term limits and a high-profile governor’s race. They’re putting $500,000 behind the effort, plus their own staff and resources. And they’ve met with the major gubernatorial candidates hoping to gain traction on the topics.

Barry Erwin, head of the Council for A Better Louisiana, said the state’s last decade of financial problems have kept governors and lawmakers from having deeper conversations about the direction of the state.

The tax compromise brokered between Gov. John Bel Edwards and state lawmakers, which stabilized state finances, gives candidates for governor and the Legislature time to focus on other issues, Erwin said.

But the RESET organization leaders acknowledge little detailed policy talk is happening in the governor’s race so far. Edwards, a Democrat, is seeking a second term in the Oct. 12 election against two major GOP contenders, U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham and wealthy businessman Eddie Rispone.

Candidates have been talking about President Donald Trump, federal immigration policy and Edwards’ performance over the last four years — rather than releasing in-depth statements of plans for the four-year term they are seeking to win.

“If you listen to what they’re talking about, they’re not really talking about things that move the state forward,” Erwin said. “Part of this whole effort has to be about changing the conversation.”

Candidates aren’t being asked to sign a pledge, and they won’t get endorsements or donations from RESET. But the groups hope that, armed with data and policy ideas, the candidates might adopt some of the suggestions as their own.

“You just have to continue to educate and press forward,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council.

Among the ideas proposed by the organizations would:

—Expand access to early education programs for children from birth to age 3 and ensure all high school students can enroll in dual enrollment courses that provide college credit or technical training.

—Eliminate or restructure the corporate franchise tax and permanently suspend a list of 100 sales tax exemptions that lawmakers have temporarily suspended.

—Reduce sales tax rates, but broaden the areas subject to sales taxes.

—Centralize Louisiana’s parish-by-parish system of sales tax administration.

—Restructure the retirement plans offered to future state employees.

—Oppose any effort to undo the criminal sentencing law overhaul enacted by Edwards and lawmakers in 2017.

—Develop plans to raise new money to pay for road and bridge projects, whether through an increase in the state gasoline tax, new fees or other models.

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