It came as no surprise that the top three issues at a Tuesday evening forum for four Baton Rouge candidates for the state House of Representatives came in as budget, transportation and education.
But the candidates, all Republicans — two in the District 66 runoff and two in the District 69 race — gave the approximately 50 people in the audience at Woodlawn Baptist Church slightly different variations on what they think needs to be done.
The questions to the candidates were texted to the moderator during the forum.
In District 66, Darrell Ourso, incumbent and financial advisor, and Rick Edmonds, vice president of Louisiana Family Forum, spared a bit on last year’s legislative session and what should be done in the upcoming one as the state again faces a budget shortfall.
Edmonds criticized Ourso for his part in what the challenger called the most “dysfunctional and divided” Legislature he’s ever seen.
The budget process needs a complete reform that starts addressing spending and finding efficiencies such as streamlining the multiple higher boards of education, Edmonds said.
Ourso turned the criticism back to Edmonds after the challenger proposed a pilot program for Louisiana education reform that would involve dedicated teachers and computer labs to help get students back up to appropriate grade level.
“Where are you going to get the money?” Ourso asked Edmonds.
Ourso said budget reform will require examining the dedicated funding that makes up a large part of the budget.
“You can’t keep giving away half the money you get and expect to stay in business,” Ourso said.
In District 69, Paula Davis, a government relations specialist and former state deputy insurance commissioner of property and casualty during hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and Ryan Heck, owner of Cajun Ready Mix Concrete and a Metro Council member, did not attack one another.
Instead, each outlined budget issues.
“Budget affects everything,” Davis said. The Legislature has to begin the work of looking at 300 dedicated funding streams that have tied up large parts of the budget and forced education and health care to be on the chopping block every year because they’re some of the few funds the legislature can use, she said.
For Heck, budget and traffic come together in the issue of reforming the state Department of Transportation and Development.
“Fourteen cents of every dollar actually gets spent on asphalt, rebar and steel,” he said. There is a funding hole in the bottom of DOTD’s bucket, and it’s time that hole got sealed, he said.
After talking about education needs — each of the candidates agreed with the need for parents to have choices on where they send their children — the candidates were asked if they would have supported a constitutional amendment for an independent school district in the St. George area.
Heck said “absolutely,” Edmonds said he thinks residents should have gotten the chance to vote, Ourso said he was in favor of having the option of independent school district available statewide, and Davis said she would have needed to see how the district felt before taking a stand.
“I have a lot of faith in Superintendent (Warren) Drake and what they’re doing right now,” she said.
The candidates also were asked whom they support for governor in the contest between Republican David Vitter and Democrat John Bel Edwards. Edmonds and Heck quickly answered Vitter, while Ourso and Davis said they would work with whoever is elected the next governor.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.