Two of the four major candidates for governor gave out their personal cellphone numbers to local government officials Monday, saying it’s important to have direct contact with the state’s top elected official.
U.S. David Vitter, R-Metairie, did so first, followed by Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, R-Baton Rouge, attracting much applause from the audience attending the candidate forum at the Louisiana Municipal Association’s annual convention in Lafayette.
The other two candidates — state Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, R-Breaux Bridge — spoke before Vitter and Dardenne, but both have given their personal cellphone numbers to local officials and media.
While there have been plenty of forums, this was one of the few in which all four candidates appeared in person. They addressed several hundred local officials as they lunched on roasted pork. The candidates were given three issues to address during their speeches, which lasted about 12 minutes each.
The four candidates differed on whether to repeal the inventory tax, which is collected by local officials and for which the state reimburses the taxpayer. But all four agreed not to repeal the controversial tax, on which local governments rely, until a new stream of revenues can be found.
All four also generally backed allowing local governments more authority to raise revenues that would pay for local road projects.
Vitter gave out his personal cellphone number, promising not to change it election night.
“I’ve always gone out of my way to meet with you,” Vitter said. “I value that active partnership.”
On a national level, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump caused a stir recently by reading out the personal cellphone number of fellow Republican candidate U.S. Lindsey Graham at a rally in South Carolina.
But this was aimed more at Gov. Bobby Jindal. Though he’s also a Republican presidential candidate, Jindal has been widely criticized by state and local officials for being too aloof.
The heartiest applause from the mayors and council members attending the event came when Edwards promised not to shunt their calls off on a 20-something-year-old aide from Florida or New York.
“Louisiana deserves a governor who wakes up every day worried about the people of Louisiana, and Louisiana deserves a governor who wakes up in the state of Louisiana,” Edwards said.
Dardenne says leadership is about bringing different interests together, hearing what they have to say and making decisions that solve problems.
Angelle, who was Jindal’s secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and the appointed lieutenant governor for a short time, stayed out of the backhanded criticism of the governor.
However, he did end his speech by saying in French: “For me, it’s Louisiana every time, all the time.”
Vitter and Dardenne said they would get rid of the property tax levied mostly on businesses for the inventory they hold. It is a key source of income for local school boards, sheriffs and municipalities.
The business community opposes the tax, saying it makes Louisiana uncompetitive, so state government is spending more than $500 million a year in a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to offset the local tax expense for companies.
Dardenne called it a “crazy tax,” and Vitter said the tax impeded businesses from locating in Louisiana.
Edwards opposed repealing the inventory tax, while Angelle said better ways were available for local governments to raise revenues.
But all four candidates said that nothing would happen to the inventory tax until an alternative source of revenue becomes available.
“The state should not fix its house by wrecking city hall,” Angelle said.
All four said helping local governments find ways to repair local roads was also a priority. They would give local governments more authority to raise revenues.
Edwards and Dardenne said a local gas tax was a possibility, provided voters approved. Vitter and Angelle were not specific, though both backed changing laws that hinder local governments from seeking its own revenues.
“Louisiana should not have to wait for Washington or Baton Rouge,” Angelle said.
Earlier, Lafayette City-Parish President Joey Durel welcomed convention attendees with a reference to the fatal theater shooting last week in Lafayette.
The city, today, is not the happiest in the nation, as a national publication has designated it in the past, he said. But Durel assured the assembly of local officials that Lafayette would again be the nation’s happiest city.
“It’s in our cultural DNA,” Durel said.