Finally, some campaign issues

ABRAHAM, EDWARDS — U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, left, and Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards are finally getting into some real issues in the statewide gubernatorial election beginning Oct. 12.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, one of the governor’s two major Republican challengers in the Oct. 12 primary, aren’t far apart when it comes to how they would fix the state’s tax structure. The Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) surveyed the candidates on 17 issues as it has done for 25 years,

The two candidates’ answers give voters some of the first real red meat in the campaign. Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone, the other major GOP candidate, didn’t file answers with CABL. Rispone is spending a major chunk of the millions of dollars he put into his own campaign on a continuing TV barrage.

CABL in its tax structure question said there are two schools of thought about the tax structure. Some, like Edwards, want to continue the state’s current budget stability. Others, like Abraham, want to cut taxes to keep state spending from increasing. CABL said there may be some middle ground between those views.

Edwards said, “We can reform our tax code and still meet the needs of our state, but any candidate that suggests we cut taxes without providing the specific areas where they would cut to balance the budget isn’t being honest with the citizens of Louisiana.”

Abraham said, “I believe firmly that taxes in Louisiana can be lowered, while still investing appropriate dollars in what should be (but have not been) the state’s top priorities, including infrastructure and early childhood education.”

The two candidates definitely disagree when it comes to Louisiana’s taxes. Edwards said the state has the fifth lowest tax burden in the country. Abraham said the state’s individual and corporate income tax rates are among the highest in the South and the sales tax is the second highest in the nation.

When CABL asked how they would fix the tax structure, the two candidates had similar answers.

Edwards said, “One specific proposal I want to consider is to get rid of the federal income tax deduction (on state income tax returns). We could then lower the income tax rate on 90 percent of Louisiana taxpayers.” He also wants to get rid of some tax exemptions.

Abraham said, “On the income tax side, I will seek to eliminate the deduction for federal income taxes paid, and lower rates… Our exorbitantly high, regressive sales tax must also be lowered, and exemptions that were temporarily suspended should be permanently suspended.”

The two candidates voiced some agreement when asked if a constitutional convention was the best way to fix the tax system.

Edwards said, “Our Legislature should have the courage to make the comprehensive changes that may be needed to change the constitution through the legislative process. But what I do not want to see is a constitutional convention overtaken by special interests.”

Like Edwards, Abraham said, “Before we look at opening up the entire constitution and putting all of the good and desirable parts of our constitution that currently benefit Louisiana at risk, I would like the opportunity to have a new Legislature enact comprehensive fiscal reform.”

The current Legislature in 2016 promised to reform the budget and tax systems in 2017. The changes would have been based on the recommendations issued by the Legislature’s Task Force on Structural Changes in Budget and Tax Policy. However, it never happened.

State Treasurer John Schroder, a state representative at the time, created the task force at the Legislature’s first special session in 2016. The House Concurrent Resolution said it “urges and requests the governor to support and implement initiatives for structural change introduced in upcoming sessions of the Legislature…”

Edwards never had the opportunity to do what the resolution asked because no initiatives were produced. Republicans then and now control the Legislature.

Two of their GOP tax experts — Reps. Barry Ivey of Central and Julie Stokes of Kenner —introduced many tax reform bills that never saw the light of day.

No one would say so publicly, but it was generally believed Republicans weren’t interested in accomplishing any tax and budget reforms that would benefit Edwards’ re-election chances.

The two candidates were asked by CABL to name the three things that are holding Louisiana back from moving forward and reaching the state’s potential.

Abraham listed a lack of leadership in the governor’s mansion, a belief by Edwards that growing government is more important than growing the economy and failure to prioritize important issues.

Edwards took a more positive approach, saying more investment is needed in education, transportation isn’t adequately funded and access to health care for the state’s working families has to be promoted.

Thanks to CABL’s effort to address real campaign issues, we don’t have to rely solely on Abraham and Rispone’s constant attacks on Edwards and their lack of detail when they talk about cutting the budget and cutting taxes.

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