NEW ORLEANS — Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne on Monday questioned why challenger Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser accepted a $28,000 pay raise this year.
Nungesser criticized Dardenne’s legislative votes he said allowed illegal immigrants to take the jobs of law-abiding citizens.
The exchanges occurred during a lieutenant governor’s race forum sponsored by WDSU-TV in New Orleans.
Dardenne said Nungesser has criticized him in previous forums and campaign commercials about a $30,000 pay raise the Legislature approved for statewide elected officials “that I had nothing to do with.”
“You, this year, took a pay raise yourself,” Dardenne told Nungesser.
Dardenne asked Nungesser why he did not veto the raise, which increased his annual pay as parish president to $100,0000.
Nungesser said the parish governing body approved the pay raise.
“I took it, and I earned it,” Nungesser said.
Nungesser said that his administration has saved Plaquemines $17 million.
Dardenne and Nungesser face each other on Saturday’s election ballot for the No. 2 job in state government. Both are Republicans.
Dardenne, a former state senator, was the elected secretary of state when the Legislature approved and Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed legislation increasing the pay of the governor by $35,000 and other statewide elected officials by $30,000. The pay raise was effective in 2008.
Nungesser was Plaquemines president when the parish council passed an ordinance in August 2009 calling for the 39 percent pay increase, effective this year.
The lieutenant governor is first in line of succession to the governor and his primary responsibility over state tourism efforts.
As part of a question dealing with state tourism efforts, Nungesser said he favored a state-run tourism office in New Orleans.
“We absolutely need that presence here,” he said.
Dardenne said it would be a duplication of effort and waste of money because there is already a strong local tourism initiative. He said he plans expansion of visitor centers.
Nungesser said Dardenne voted to allow illegal immigrants to take jobs.
Dardenne countered that the two bills Nungesser cites were opposed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other business groups.
“These people said these are bad bills for Louisiana workers. This will cost Louisiana jobs and put an undue burden on business,” Dardenne said.
Nungesser said he is running against a “career politician” and asked how Dardenne could be for term limits for elected officials while he has been in elected office for more than two decades.
Dardenne said he helped pass legislative term limits when he served in the state Senate and he lived by them as a member of the legislature.
He said he supports legislation limiting the terms of all statewide elected officials and did as a legislator as well.
Nungesser criticized Dardenne for being a tax increaser.
“You talk about being a fiscal conservative leading the fight for the middle class,” Nungesser said.
But he said Dardenne voted for the tax increase included in the Stelly Plan, a state sales and income tax swap.
Dardenne said he supported sending the Stelly Plan to voters who approved it. The plan eliminated state sales taxes on food and drugs, which continues today, he said.
Dardenne said he has voted for more than two dozen tax repeals, exemptions and credits, including elimination of gift and death taxes and the motion picture tax credit that has spurred that industry here.
Nungesser said Dardenne has voted for dozens of tax increases. He said fees, such as increases in hunting licenses, are taxes even though Dardenne doesn’t admit it.
“It’s smoke and mirrors,” said Nungesser.
Meanwhile, Dardenne again tested Nungesser’s knowledge of the lieutenant governor’s office. He asked Nungesser about tourism funding.
“I’m not going to answer your questions about the office,” replied Nungesser.
“If you don’t know, just … tell the voters why they should give you a job you don’t know anything about,” Dardenne responded.