With the state of Louisiana facing a $1 billion shortfall this year, candidates for the special election for House District 93 said they believe eliminating tax exemptions is a better approach than the governor’s proposed “doomsday” cuts to education and healthcare.
Earlier this week, Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed a $26 billion budget featuring $1 billion in cuts that he said he doesn’t support, urging legislators to find new sources of revenue instead. The budget crisis could require a special legislative session in June to resolve, well after the new representative for District 93 is expected to be seated following Helena Moreno’s investiture to the City Council in May.
Three candidates for the seat — Kenny Bordes, Royce Duplessis and Danil Faust — fielded questions Wednesday night from the Alliance for Good Government about how they believe the budget crisis should be resolved. (A fourth candidate, Eldon Anderson, did not attend.) All three said that the state needs to re-examine its tax exemptions in an effort to raise more revenue this year, and stave off the proposed cuts.
Duplessis, a private energy attorney and former chair of the City Planning Commission, said he would start by re-examining revenue opportunities by way of tax exemptions, ensuring that the state is getting a proper return on each of those investments.
“Simply saying we’re going to cut is not the answer,” Duplessis said, emphasizing that not even the governor wants to pass the budget he himself proposed.
Faust, a French Quarter bartender, said that such tax exemptions cost the state $3 billion in 2005 but have grown to represent $8 billion in lost revenue now, with some going to firms that do not even have employees. Instead of relying so heavily on personal income taxes that hurt workers, the state should derive more of its tax from property and industry, he said.
“You have a lot of companies that can work through these loopholes and get rebates,” Faust said.
Bordes, a private labor and civil-rights attorney with a background in the film industry, said higher education and health care are always the first to be cut because they aren’t protected by the state constitution. The rest of the budget needs to be subjected to the same scrutiny, he said, and Gov. Edwards should call a constitutional convention to address that disparity.
All three candidates also criticized the state’s practice of only dealing with tax law every other year. Faust noted that taxes are an “ongoing issue,” and thus should be able to be heard every year. Duplessis agreed, though he questioned how much it would help when the legislature seems generally unable to pass a responsible budget anyway. Bordes said the practice creates too many special sessions, which cost the taxpayers extra.
“Why can’t we address these issues when it’s most cost effective for the constituency?” Bordes asked.
Despite some similar opinions on the state’s tax policy, the three candidates emphasized their different backgrounds as a way for voters to distinguish between them.
Bordes said his law practice focuses on issues of labor litigation and civil rights issues, ensuring that people are paid and treated generally by their employers. He has seen the laws that employers exploit, and he wants to go to Baton Rouge to address them.
Bordes also said legislators should hold regular neighborhood meetings with their constituents and use other new means to increase residents’ involvement.
“I think that private citizens need to get involved in government,” Bordes said. “Transparency is something of value.”
Faust said he gave up a career in finance to move to New Orleans in 2010, arriving on Bourbon Street immediately after the Saints’ Super Bowl win and falling in love with the city’s exuberance. He lives above a bar and loves the lifestyle, he said, and believes the hospitality workers he works alongside should have representation in government.
“I constantly see hospitality workers abused. I constantly see scofflaws in businesses on Bourbon Street, and work these individuals 50 and 60 and 80 hours a week,” Faust said. “We need to figure out new economic solutions. Programming won’t cut it. We need trade schools and jobs.”
Faust has spoken at City Council meetings on the jail expansion and on issues affecting the hospitality industry, but said his foremost concern is the deteriorating condition of drinking-water infrastructure across the state, as shown by the effect of the recent freeze.
Duplessis described a legal career that has included clerking for the state Supreme Court and energy litigation for the international Dentons law firm that advises the City Council, as well as practical experience on the City Planning Commission that has given him contacts throughout city government. His parents instilled in him the value of public service, and the issue “most dear to his heart” is increasing early childhood education, he said.
His work on the law around the state, country and world pales in importance next to his mentoring with the Silverback Society, Duplessis.
“I want to serve the kids of this community, because I know we can’t have anything unless we invest in our future in terms of education,” Duplessis said.
In addition to the District 93 race, the Alliance also heard from candidates (Dale Atkins, Robin Pittman, Richard Perque and Ellen Hazeur) in two judicial races in the March 24 election.
On Thursday, the Alliance announced that it would endorse Duplessis for state representative, Atkins for 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and Perque for Civil District Court.
To read our live coverage of all three discussions, see below.