The political pendulum swung against continued tax giveaways during the just-concluded legislative session, and that swing will continue next year, each of the four gubernatorial candidates promised Wednesday in Westwego.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, U.S. Sen. David Vitter and state Rep. John Bel Edwards — the sole Democrat — all said they would trim or close tax credits and deductions if elected.
“There are a number of exclusions and credits that need to be ratcheted down,” Dardenne said at one point. “We got to change the whole system. It will be difficult.”
“We need a flatter and fairer tax system,” said Edwards, calling for a change where the Legislature and the governor would agree to lower tax rates and make up the lost revenue by shaving or ending tax breaks.
Dardenne and Vitter also supported a similar idea.
Angelle called for creating what he labeled the Exemption Review Conference to identify the specific costs of the hundreds of tax breaks that legislators and governors have put in the state tax code.
The gubernatorial candidates’ statements reflect the sharp change in tax policy in Baton Rouge. During the first seven years of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s term, he and the state Legislature cut taxes for higher-income individuals and passed more tax breaks for businesses.
But the Legislature cut a variety of business tax breaks this year by 20, 25 or 28 percent as part of the effort to end a projected $1.6 billion deficit for the fiscal year that begins on July 1. Jindal said he would sign the measures into law.
Angelle, Dardenne and Edwards all appeared at a forum held at the Alario Center, which is named after the father of state Senate President John Alario, a Republican and former Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 1972.
Vitter, the frontrunner in polls, was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to advocate for federal spending on Fort Polk near Leesville. He gave a taped eight-minute speech at the forum.
It was the 18th forum where at least three of the four candidates appeared, according to the Dardenne campaign, and it marked a new point in the campaign.
“Now that the legislative session is over, people are beginning to think about the governor’s race more seriously,” Pearson Cross, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette political science professor, said in a phone interview. “You’ll start seeing candidates moving ahead or moving behind. The election is in four-and-a-half months.”
Angelle is the only candidate who has been running television advertisements so far. Vitter has the most money to spend on the campaign thanks to big donations from wealthy and powerful interest groups.
In his taped remarks, Vitter said he would call for a special session just after taking office in January to address the state’s budget problems.
The Legislature this year passed a budget full of short-term fixes, including about $600 million in one-time money that won’t be available to the governor and Legislature next year. Jindal said last week that he would sign the budget into law. The governor and Legislature also are bequeathing about a $1 billion budget deficit for the next governor and Legislature for the following year.
That deficit figure is for what is called the “continuation budget,” which includes money for state workers’ pay raises and the higher costs for pensions and other state programs.
Vitter said the next governor and Legislature should eliminate rules that prevent cuts in certain government programs, as well as re-examine all tax credits and exemptions.
After so many forums together, the three candidates at the Alario Center seemed to have developed a sense of camaraderie, addressing each other by first name at times and not drawing any sharp distinctions among themselves.
Angelle showed that he is farther to the right than either Edwards or Dardenne by saying he generally supported the religious freedom bill that the Legislature killed in a legislative committee, amid complaints that it would have discriminated against people in same-sex marriages and harmed tourism in Louisiana. Edwards noted that he voted against the bill in that committee, while Dardenne said he did not support it.
Angelle also said he would support the teaching of creationism in schools, something that Edwards and Dardenne said they did not support.
Dardenne differed from Edwards and Angelle by saying he supports keeping the Common Core educational standards that Jindal tried to overturn. The Legislature instead passed a compromise bill — which Jindal ultimately supported — that requires state officials to hold public hearings in all six congressional districts during a review of Common Core by a special panel of educators.
Edwards marked his difference with Dardenne and Angelle by voicing the strongest criticisms of Jindal, who cannot run for re-election and is expected to announce next week that he is running for president.
“I encourage you to select the candidate for governor who has a record of standing up to the disastrous policies of Bobby Jindal that are bad for the state,” Edwards said. “I didn’t wait until he was under 30 percent in the opinion polls and one foot out the door of the office before I stood up.”
Dardenne criticized Jindal for his frequent travels out of state and his lack of communication with other elected officials, including Dardenne.
Angelle, who served briefly as Jindal’s appointed lieutenant governor, said he would be his own man as governor.
Follow Tyler Bridges on Twitter, @TegBridges. For more coverage of the State Capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.