Because of a convention meeting, the normal meeting space of the Press Club of Baton Rouge was overhung by a banner: Hauntcon.
Highly appropriate, a convention for haunted-house operators, as the four bystanders campaigned to become members of the House of Representatives.
The State Capitol is a chamber of budgetary horrors these days.
The specter of a $1.4 billion shortfall, or a $1.6 billion shortfall, or whatever scary number was enough to push the candidates close to the abyss — and that is, as any political consultant can tell you, breaking the news to constituents that they might have to pay more for roads.
No commitments, mind you, so there are few profiles in courage to be written about the Feb. 21 special election to fill the seat of Hunter Greene, who was elected to a judgeship last year. But if the low bar of statesmanship is openness to funding that will pay for roads and bridges, four statespeople seek the seat in south Baton Rouge.
Among the candidates, the Dr. No on most issues is Buddy Amoroso of the Metro Council, yet in the light of the state’s budget problems, he also said that the state should put its lavish tax breaks for business under the microscope.
Investment adviser Rick Bond, like Amoroso endorsed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, also talked tax reform that includes exemption rollbacks to simplify the tax code.
Similar sentiments came from Darrell Ourso, a former member of the Metro Council, and lawyer and community activist Susan Nelson, the only non-GOP member on the ballot. She is a no-party independent.
“There’s no added value at $300,000 per episode of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ ” Nelson said, noting that the show gets generous tax credits even though it would be filmed in Louisiana regardless.
All the candidates talked about roads and traffic, obviously an obsession of their suburban constituents, but no one made any commitment to raise the gasoline tax, which has eroded for years because of inflation. Still, no one ruled an increase out, although the candidates generally talked about anything else — toll roads and public-private partnerships, even Nelson’s focus on the signals on Nicholson Drive. At least the latter might — might — be within the powers of a very junior state representative.
Dodging personal responsibility, Amoroso said he would favor a tax increase such as that pushed by Gov. Buddy Roemer, in which the public voted on a gasoline tax hike for major projects. “It’s a very regressive tax,” Bond added, but he did not rule out an increase because of the impact of inflation on road repair; Nelson ditto. Ourso also backed a public vote — another bit of dodging legislative responsibility that underlines that Edmund Burke is not running in District 66.
Why not just raise the darn gas tax? It’s fallen in value for decades. Even in the looniest fantasies of toll roads or public-private partnerships, vast public investment would be needed to keep the potholes filled and the bridges propped up.
If the tax is to be raised, Nelson noted, now is a good time because gasoline prices are low; still a big “if,” as Nelson also made the same general comments about the Transportation Trust Fund that the others by and large agreed to.
Diversions from the Transportation Trust Fund are a legitimate topic, although nobody came up with a realistic plan to replace the millions in costs for State Police and other necessary expenditures that would be shifted to the general fund. For a fraction of those sums, the Jindal administration has tangled the budget into knots. What will the new District 66 member propose? That the State Police loot Beaumont for ready cash, a la Pancho Villa?
One more junior member of the House to be elected this spring might not make that much difference, but if the winner is scared by the shortfall into honesty about ways (transportation) and means (the gas tax), then haunted houses have their uses.
Lanny Keller is an editorial writer for The Advocate. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.