What’s the solution to the state’s budget mess?
If taxes have to go higher, who should pay more and how much?
How can Louisiana’s colleges and universities get more money from the new governor and Legislature next year?
Good-government leaders and public policy experts have been spending months meeting privately to devise answers to these and other pressing questions, in an effort to provide answers to the gubernatorial candidates and to shape public opinion in advance of the Oct. 24 primary.
Some groups already have begun presenting their findings to the candidates. Each one will release its ideas in the coming days and weeks and post them online.
The focus on the issues by nonprofit groups occurs every four years but seems to be unprecedented this year given the myriad problems that Gov. Bobby Jindal and the outgoing Legislature will bequeath to their successors.
“Everybody is talking to each other, independently and collaboratively,” said Barry Erwin, president and chief executive officer of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a research and lobbying group based in Baton Rouge.
By “everybody,” Erwin means the dozens of people in the insular world of Baton Rouge who have a keen interest in what happens in the State Capitol.
His group, known as CABL, will release its election agenda next week. “We’re saying, ‘These things are important and should be part of the discussion,’ ” Erwin said.
The Committee of 100, which says its mission is to “attract and retain industry” in Louisiana, has hired the Tax Foundation, a conservative-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, to create a menu of options on taxes. The Tax Foundation in turn has been working with CABL, the Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council, the Louisiana Budget Project and LSU’s Public Administration Institute, which includes professor Jim Richardson, the state’s best-known economist.
Michael Olivier, chief executive officer of the Committee of 100, said this group has presented the tax options to each of the four major gubernatorial candidates: U.S. Sen. David Vitter, Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and state Rep. John Bel Edwards, the only Democrat.
“We’re looking at everything that might fit for Louisiana,” Olivier said.
Blueprint Louisiana, another nonprofit group of business and civic leaders, will put forth policy prescriptions to deal with the state’s budget problems, health care and how to fund traffic congestion and highway improvements, said Jim Harris, a Baton Rouge lobbyist who serves as the group’s spokesman.
“We’re focusing on the things that gurgle up if you do a poll or if you sit down with people to discuss the issues,” said Harris, adding that the group will release its findings as early as next week.
Like CABL, the Public Affairs Research Council, a Baton Rouge think tank better known as PAR, also is in the middle of various research efforts.
“We have made ourselves available to anyone who wants to talk,” said Robert Travis Scott, the group’s president. “We’ve given them help from our archives, we’ve provided historical context, we’ve provided data and we’ve provided recommendations. We made it clear to the people we’re helping that we want to inform their discussion. That doesn’t mean it’s our product.”
Louisiana’s top college and university officials are putting forth their own endeavor, given the deep spending cuts to their institutions by Jindal and the Legislature. Roy O. Martin III, the Jindal-appointed chairman of the Board of Regents, is overseeing that effort.
Called the Stakeholder Collaborative, it consists of the leaders of the four university systems — University of Louisiana, LSU, Southern and Louisiana Community and Technical College systems — as well as regents and officials at PAR, CABL, the Committee of 100 and a few others.
Martin said the group has presented its views to the candidates.
A key finding: “All four systems need to design a curriculum to better meet the workforce needs in Louisiana,” Martin said. “We want to be more career force oriented.”
Another group is Ready Louisiana, which consists of 30 organizations that have crafted a plan “seeking greater investment by the state in early childhood education,” said its coordinator, Melanie Bronfin, who heads the Policy Institute for Children.
She said Vitter and Dardenne have laid out a plan to fund pre-K schooling in Louisiana. Edwards and Angelle “have not stepped out on this yet,” she said.
The Louisiana Platform for Children, which consists of seven organizations, is releasing its policy prescription on Friday, said its coordinator, Sherry Guarisco, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families.
She described it as “a comprehensive guide for candidates and voters that covers eight major policy areas, ranging from child health to juvenile justice.”
Meanwhile, the United Way of Southeast Louisiana has sent a questionnaire to the candidates on poverty-related issues, such as whether they support equal pay for women and an increase in the minimum wage. Only Vitter has not responded, said Michael Williamson, the group’s New Orleans-based chief executive officer.
He said the group will post the answers on its website.
Poverty issues “are not really being talked about,” Williamson said. “We want them to be part of the narrative going forward.”
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.