Three respected non-partisan organizations in Louisiana have created a great program called RESET that is designed to make changes in this state that have been neglected much too long. The Committee of 100, the Council for A Better Louisiana (CABL) and the Public Affairs Research Council are focused on state finances, education, transportation infrastructure and criminal justice/public safety.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone are in the Nov. 16 gubernatorial runoff. Edwards has a positive record in two of those areas — education and criminal justice reform — and has had some success in the transportation arena.
Edwards and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, who failed the make the runoff, responded to a CABL survey on 17 major campaign issues. Rispone has never responded, which is typical of the way he has run his campaign.
Rispone is playing it safe, avoiding details about how he would handle the tough issues. Instead, he has spent millions trying to convince voters he is a true disciple of President Donald Trump.
In Rispone’s first runoff campaign commercial, President Trump calls Rispone pro-life, pro-family, proworker and pro-jobs, four descriptions that fit Edwards extremely well.
Rispone said he wants to make Louisiana great again, but hasn’t said how he is going to do it. He has consistently told voters he wants to call a constitutional convention, but reporters who have asked him for details never get any answers.
Edwards on RESET’s state finance issue said he would like to get rid of the federal income tax deduction on state income tax returns that created higher taxes for Louisiana taxpayers because of the federal tax cut. He said doing away with the exemption would make it possible to lower the income tax rate on 90 percent of taxpayers.
The governor said he would like to see the Legislature make the budget and tax reforms it promised to do in 2017, but didn’t get done.
Rispone hasn’t addressed the state finance issue except to say he would cut taxes and reduce spending, but has given voters no details about what taxes and state services he would cut.
The RESET program wants to know what the candidates are going to do about childhood (birth to age 3) education, K-12 education and building Louisiana’s talent pool. Edwards has been involved in those areas.
Edwards asked and the Legislature responded by appropriating $20 million for early childhood education, the first infusion of state funds for that program. Edwards has said he will work toward funding the $86 million needed annually.
Teachers also got their first raise in 10 years. The MFP formula that funds K-12 education got its first increase in years. Higher education saw its funding stabilized for two years and increased this year for the first time in nearly a decade.
Rispone hasn’t addressed the education issue, except to say more non-public schools are needed.
Edwards has been involved with the criminal justice/public safety issue by supporting the Legislature’s 2017, 10-bill package of criminal justice reforms that have lowered the state’s prison population and saved millions of dollars for rehabilitation.
President Trump also supports criminal justice changes and has met with Edwards on the issue. Rispone hasn’t responded, except to criticize Edwards’ handling of the reforms.
Everyone knows the state’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, and Edwards has indicated he would support an increase in the gas tax that hasn’t been raised in nearly 30 years. However, the decision rests with the Legislature.
RESET said since the last gas tax increase much in the world of transportation has changed. The purchasing power of the 16-per-gallon state gas tax available for roads and bridges has deteriorated significantly, fuel efficiency has increased and there is greater use of electric and hybrid vehicles.
Edwards has already pledged to put $85 million in next year’s capital outlay bill for the state’s 10 percent share of funding for a new Interstate 10 bridge at Lake Charles. President Trump has also said the federal government’s 90-percent share will be no problem if he is re-elected in 2020.
Legislators did pass a $700 million transportation bill earlier this year, and the Edwards administration used borrowed federal funds to complete three major highway construction projects.
The three organizations sponsoring the RESET program have proved they know how to get things done. Legislators who will take office next January haven’t said much about the RESET program during their campaigns. We hope they will have the courage to work for change in RESET’s major reform areas.
Edwards has demonstrated over the last four years that he is in tune with what RESET wants to accomplish. Rispone has only said, “Trust me. I’m a businessman and an outsider, and I can get it done.”
Don’t voters deserve to know exactly how Rispone plans to do that? As that famous hamburger commercial asked, “Where’s the beef?”