LAFAYETTE — The candidates for the House District 39 seat advocate increased tax incentives as a way to strengthen the state’s economy, but differ on which industries should get the breaks.
Small-business owners Don Menard and James Arnaud both said they favor tax breaks for small businesses.
“You’ve got to help the middle class,” said Arnaud. “We need to help small businesses with tax breaks because they’re the companies that are going to grow.”
Menard called small businesses the “lifeblood” of the state.
“Small-business people create the jobs in the communities,” Menard said.
State tax incentives given to the state’s film industry should be extended to other cultural industries, as well as oil-and-gas companies, Stephen Ortego said.
Investments in education and infrastructure will also spur economic growth, Ortego said.
Ortego and Menard both agreed that completion of the Interstate 49 connector project could help stimulate the economy. All three candidates pointed to job creation as the major need for the district.
Another need in the district, said Arnaud: “an honest man in the Legislature.”
“We need to get honest, hardworking middle-class people who can identify with the people, that know the people, that can help create jobs, that have good ideas, who have been in the field and been there and done that” he said.
The candidates seek to replace Bobby Badon, who opted not to seek re-election.
Ortego first ran for the seat in 2007, but missed the runoff by 24 votes.
When it comes to budget cuts, Ortego said, legislators shouldn’t play the role of “bean counters,” but consider “what are the things we value in our communities the most? Those are the ones we should cut the least.”
Rather than cut state services, savings could be produced in making services more efficient, the candidates said.
“The largest cost right now is Medicaid and it will be a bigger issue in 2014,” Ortego said. “I think doing more CCNs — coordinated care networks — will help save money in the Medicaid section.”
Arnaud did not offer specific spending reduction strategies, but said he seeks a seat in the Legislature to help find solutions to “wasteful spending.”
“That’s part of why I want to get in office,” Arnaud said. “I want to see for myself why we can’t balance the budget and why we have so many kids dropping out of school and why we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation.”
Ortego and Menard both said they view reducing the size of government as another spending-control measure.
“We need to take a look at the fraud and waste going on in government,” Menard said. “I think there’s a considerable amount of dollars that are being used that we could maybe do better things with.”
One spending decision that should be taken out of the legislators’ hands is their own pay, Ortego said. He said he would propose legislation that places the decision with an independent commission of the state’s higher education leaders.
Health care and education are two important areas that should be protected in the budget, Menard said. Those investments are tied to the state’s economic health, he said.
“When an industry wants to come into a community, the top three issues they look at are: No. 1, education. Infrastructure is No. 2; and health care is No. 3,” Menard said. “We need to put some attention and put the dollars in those (areas).”
All three pointed to education as the way to help break the cycle of poverty.
Arnaud said a focus should be placed at the high school level and reducing the state’s drop-out rate. The state should convene a commission that reviews best practices used by other states for drop-out prevention, he said.
“The dropout rate is unbelievable,” Arnaud said. “We have to find a solution.”
Ortego is an advocate of French-immersion programs and said he would like to see such programs expanded in the state.
“Not only does it better prepare students academically, but it’s part of who we are as Louisianians,” he said.
Menard proposed investing more in education programs that have proven effective.
The three candidates oppose tax increases and consider a fee similar to a tax. Ortego called fees a “hidden tax” while Menard quipped both are “three-letter words.”
Before tax increases are considered, “I’d rather look at what we’ve got and be more efficient,” Arnaud said.
JAMES ‘JAMIE’ ARNAUD
No party, Carencro.
43, self-employed licensed plumber.
EDUCATION: Carencro High, U.S. Army veteran.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None.
56, St. Landry Parish president, small-business owner (Don’s Country Mart).
EDUCATION: Sunset High School.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: St. Landry Parish president, mayor of Cankton, Cankton Board of Aldermen.
27, home designer/builder.
EDUCATION: Master’s of Architecture, Tulane University.
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: None.
WHERE TO VOTE
Ward/Precinct and location
1 Carencro Middle Gym - East
2Y Carencro Middle Gym - West
2Z Carencro Middle Gym - West
3 Carencro Middle Gym - East
4Y Carencro Middle Cafeteria
4Z Carencro Middle Cafeteria
5 Carencro Heights Elementary
6 Carencro Middle Gym - West
7 Carencro Heights Elementary
8 Ossun Elementary
9 Ossun Elementary
12 Acadian Middle
25 Scott City Hall
26 Scott City Hall
29Y Scott Middle
29Z Scott Middle
St. Landry Parish
1-17 Opelousas Senior High
1-28 IFBS Lodge
1-28A IFBS Lodge
2-3 Cankton Village Hall
2-7 Sunset Fire Hall
2-8 Cankton Village Hall
3-2 Fire District No. 5 Station
3-2A Fire District No. 5 Station
3-4 American Legion Hall