New Orleans needs a special contingent of State Police to curb crime but it cannot remain on the state tab indefinitely, three candidates for governor said Saturday.
Democrat John Bel Edwards, a state representative from Amite, said the crime-fighting presence makes sense today. “New Orleans is in need right now,” he said.
However, Edwards said 58 extra troopers in and near the French Quarter are costing the state about $700,000 per month in salaries and benefits.
He said as governor he would meet with fellow Democrat Mayor Mitch Landrieu to settle on a timeline for how long additional troopers are needed.
“We cannot continue this elevated presence forever,” Edwards said.
The issue surfaced during an 85-minute forum sponsored by the Louisiana State Troopers Association, which held its 43rd annual convention in Baton Rouge and attracted about 200 troopers.
Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, of Metairie, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, of Baton Rouge, addressed three topics submitted in advance and made opening and closing comments.
The foursome was not allowed to ask one another questions.
Vitter, Angelle and Dardenne are Republicans.
The gubernatorial primary is Oct. 24.
Vitter blamed rising crime problems in New Orleans, in part, on what he called the failed political leadership of Landrieu, who Vitter said did not show up at a meeting on the issue that Vitter hosted there on March 13.
He said local citizens are reluctant to provide more dollars for the New Orleans Police Department because there is a “world of difference” between the NOPD and State Police. “We need to have a strong State Police presence for the foreseeable future,” Vitter said.
However, he said that aid has to be shouldered by local sources, and he said he backs the idea of creating a new State Police troop in New Orleans.
Angelle noted the state relies on a huge influx of tourists to New Orleans — nearly 29 million last year.
“We cannot have a safe Louisiana without a safe New Orleans,” he said.
“Certainly, they need help,” Angelle added of anti-crime efforts. “But it ought not to be forever.”
Dardenne noted that, in October, residents and business owners in the French Quarter will vote on a quarter-cent sales tax to help finance a permanent contingent of State Police — with tourists paying for much of the new charge.
“I am convinced that is an appropriate response,” he told the group.
The extra presence of State Police in New Orleans began earlier this year, and some of the costs are borne by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
On another issue, all four contenders said public safety would be top priorities if they are elected governor.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved a bill that will gradually trim the $70 million or so annually being moved from the Transportation Trust Fund to State Police.
Other bills that won final approval are supposed to offset that loss.
Angelle said that, in a general fund operating budget of $9.5 billion, public safety should not have to rely on money being routed from one fund to another. “Louisiana cannot be great if we are not first safe,” he said.
Dardenne said that, as a state senator, he sponsored the bill that paid for undoing the backlog of cases that required DNA testing.
“I have balanced state budgets in good times and bad times,” said Dardenne, former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Vitter said ensuring dollars for public safety is one reason he wants a special session immediately after he takes office in January to revamp taxes and spending.
“Louisiana is in a world of hurt,” he said. “Louisiana is in a ditch.”
Edwards said his family has deep roots in law enforcement, and State Police would be a priority in an Edwards administration.
He said he backed legislation to offset the loss of TTF dollars for State Police and supported a $35 million pay hike during a time of major state financial problems.
“It is a tough vote, make no mistake about it,” Edwards said.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/