The three Lafayette Republicans vying for the state House District 45 seat started gathering campaign support two years ago, when Louisiana’s budget was a mess.
Fast-forward to now, just weeks ahead of the Oct. 24 election primary: Louisiana’s budget remains a mess, and all three candidates know that whoever wins is going to have to hit the ground running in January. That’s when they expect a new governor to call a special legislative session to fix the current year’s budget that began July 1, as projections show again that there won’t be enough income to meet current spending plans.
Each of the District 45 candidates — André Comeaux, Jean-Paul Coussan and Jan Swift — are running to succeed three-term state Rep. Joel Robideaux, who was prohibited by term limits from running again.
Comeaux, Coussan and Swift said they’ve had it with quick-fix budget remedies that past Legislatures have implemented. The budget reductions most often cut deeply into higher education and health care, they said.
Swift, a lawyer who runs the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation, likened Louisiana’s budget process to a festering blister that is not healing.
“The Band-Aids are coming off, and the sore is getting worse,” she said. “Neosporin will not make it better.”
All three candidates acknowledged that current expenses are not in line with revenue. And they each professed an aversion to raising taxes.
“I think we need to look at all options,” Swift said. “But before we look at new revenue, we need to make darn sure that we’re delivering the services with the money we have.”
Comeaux was more blunt.
“I’m going to have to be absolutely convinced that our government runs as efficiently as is possible … before I ever talk about the ‘T’ word,” said Comeaux, a commercial insurance broker.
Coussan, a property title attorney who also has other small businesses, said the budget should be reworked and restructured, and that fiscal bills on their way to becoming law — such as legislation for tax credits — should contain a years-ahead financial calculation on what it could cost.
“It’s tied to the legislation,” said Coussan, 37, who said he envisions a change that would go further than just the current fiscal note attached to a bill, but actually embed the language in the legislation. Coussan said the measure is modeled after something former District 45 Rep. Jerry Luke LeBlanc proposed before he became Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s commissioner of administration in 2004.
Coussan also recommended a re-examination of Louisiana’s constitutional dedications that basically protect much of Louisiana’s budget from cuts.
Comeaux, 54, said there are plenty of expenses that could be cut, and a good place to find them is in the findings of the Commission on Streamlining Government.
“There were 238 recommendations made by the Streamlining Commission,” he said. “Some of them met with action, some of them did not. The ones that met with action we need to find out whether or not they worked.”
Swift cautioned that legislators new to the process would need a primer on Louisiana’s budget, not just on the numbers, but also on where the revenue comes from.
“My question is how are the legislators who show up in January going to have an intelligent answer on what to do?” Swift asked.
Campaigning for District 45 started a few years ago with fundraising and getting their names out among civic and other groups in Lafayette. If none of the candidates win outright, with more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top vote getters will face off again in the Nov. 21 runoff.
“When I started this campaign, I had two kids,” said Coussan, who with wife Jennifer now has three children.
Coussan and Comeaux in mid-September each had over $120,000 in their campaign accounts, and Swift had more than $87,000.
Each said they are continuing to raise money for a campaign they hoped would carry them to victory.