Candidates For Governor Take Aim At Jindal Policies, Budget

BATON ROUGE (AP) — The contenders to be Louisiana's next governor took swipes at the office's current occupant during a candidate forum Tuesday, criticizing Gov. Bobby Jindal's financial tactics, his political ambitions and his proposed tax-break rollback.

         U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, both Republicans, said they wouldn't consult with outside groups to determine their policies, a reference to criticism that Jindal has let his possible presidential campaign drive his positions as governor.

         "I'm not going to worry about what national political groups think or what block voters in Iowa or New Hampshire poll," Vitter told small business leaders.

         State Rep. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, blamed Jindal's financial policies for helping to create the state's $1.6 billion budget shortfall. He said he wouldn't "outsource tax policy to Grover Norquist," referencing the Republican governor's refusal to support anything the national anti-tax activist considers a tax hike.

         Even Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Republican who once worked as Jindal's chief legislative lobbyist, joined his fellow candidates in opposing the governor's chief tax proposal for the upcoming legislative session.

         All four candidates in the Oct. 24 election lambasted the current state of Louisiana's finances and suggested a wholesale review of tax break programs was needed. The cost of the programs has grown by $1.6 billion since 2009.

         Holding up a book detailing $7 billion in tax breaks, Angelle suggested the state needs to set up a new "exemption review committee" to look at the worth of each tax break. He described a state budget careening from "fire drill to fire drill."

         "Now, ladies and gentlemen, the building is on fire," he said.

         Edwards suggested Angelle shared the blame because he worked for Jindal, saying: "It is true the building is on fire, but I didn't spend the last several years helping Bobby Jindal light the match."

         Vitter repeated his pledge to call a special legislative session as soon as he took office, to look at changes to tax and spending policy, including a "sober cost-benefit analysis" of the state's tax breaks.

         Dardenne said anyone elected governor will have to call such a special session. He said the financial situation is so dire that if he won, "We won't have an inaugural ball. We'll go right to work."

         Each of the candidates balked at Jindal's proposal to scale back spending on a state tax break that reimburses businesses for the local property taxes they pay on inventory.

         Jindal wants to limit the credit to only cover a business' state tax liability, which the administration estimates would save the state as much as $377 million annually. He equates the spending to "corporate welfare."

         Lawmakers will consider the idea in the legislative session that begins April 13, but it faces strong opposition from business groups.

         Vitter called the governor's proposal "crazy," saying it would "be a huge tax increase on job creators." Edwards said the Legislature won't pass the measure.

         Angelle, Dardenne and Vitter said the tax should be repealed altogether, though no one provided specific recommendations for how to fill the gap in local tax revenue that would be lost across parishes.

         The candidate forum was sponsored by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Louisiana Restaurant Association and the Louisiana Retailers Association.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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