Secretary of State Tom Schedler and House Speaker Jim Tucker traded barbs Monday over budget cuts and state museum hours.
The two Republican candidates from the New Orleans area participated in a debate at a Press Club of Baton Rouge luncheon in the lead up to the election Saturday that has the two vying for the secretary of state’s gig.
Schedler touted his four years of experience in the office, 10 months as the secretary of state. Tucker argued for changes to spur small business growth and restore the museum hours that were cut earlier this year.
The Secretary of State’s Office oversees elections, state archives, corporate filings and several museums throughout the state, including the Old State Capitol in Baton Rouge.
“We don’t need on-the-job training for this with a presidential election coming up (next year),” Schedler said.
“This is nothing more than someone who is term-limited going out of work,” Schedler said of his only opponent.
By law, Tucker is prohibited from seeking another term in the House.
But Tucker countered that Schedler erred by taking an $861,000 state budget cut entirely out of museum operations.
“He should’ve looked for efficiencies,” Tucker said. “But when you’re wed to a department in government the way he is, you can’t have an open eye about it.”
That sparked debate over the office’s $81 million total budget.
“I had to do what I had to do as a manager,” Schedler said. “Believe me, you don’t want to go closing museums … in an election year. No smart politician would do that, but that’s what I had to do.”
Schedler said that 92 percent of the $81 million budget is tied up in elections.
“I cannot move the money,” Schedler said. “He knows that. I don’t know why he keeps saying that … That just shows once again he doesn’t know what the position does.”
“That’s the difference between a can-do attitude and a can’t-do attitude,” Tucker responded.
There are ways to scrub the budget and make adjustments, Tucker said. “And I don’t believe there’s not savings in the elections area,” he said.
Tucker also said he wants to link the secretary of state’s corporate filings aspects online with the state Department of Economic Development in a way that new business owners can quickly learn what tax credits and other benefits they can receive.
“I want the Secretary of State’s Office to do more than the bureaucratic filings that allow businesses to move forward,” Tucker said. “I think there’s the opportunity … to help small businesses grow in this state — not just fill out forms.”
Schedler said he wants to partner with the Louisiana Workforce Commission and the state Department of Revenue to remove much of the duplicative paperwork needed to start new businesses. He said the scope of his office can only do so much to spur economic development. “The most important thing the Secretary of State’s Office can do is cut red tape on the front end,” Schedler said.
He said the Secretary of State’s Office has come a long way in one year by eliminating unnecessary special elections, registering more voters, making more information available online and streamlining the filing process for starting a new business — via the website www.GeauxBiz.com.
Louisiana may be fourth nationally in registered voters, but the state is only 37th in voter participation, Tucker said.
“It really is critical that more people get out and vote in this state,” he said.
Tucker said he will reassign staff to voter outreach and education efforts statewide.
Schedler said his office takes voting machines to every parish in the state to encourage more education and turnout. But the resources are limited.
Schedler said he keeps unsuccessfully asking for more money for such efforts. “We get no money for that whatsoever,” he said.
Both agreed though that there is a need to look at the way state museums are overseen. Some are under Schedler while others are under Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who served as the secretary of state until last year.
“It’s always been skirted and put to the side and it’s time to address it,” Schedler said.