Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Election to fill Dist. 79 representative post this Saturday

27th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

Saturday, March 2, 2013, will see a special election to replace the recently resigned Tony Ligi in House District 79. As Ligi leaves his legislative post to head the Jefferson Chamber, the suburban electorate will go to the polls to decide which of four candidates running should be his replacement. This Metairie-Kenner seat, running along Lake Pontchartrain, generally north of West Esplanade Ave, from the Jefferson Parish line to Lakeport Drive, is the linchpin of the Jeff House delegation, but few voters even know that there is an election going on this coming Saturday.

That is the challenge that Allison Bent Bowler, the CFO of Ben Franklin High School; Jack Rizzuto, a former candidate for the seat six years ago and businessman; Julie Stokes, a local CPA and RTA Commissioner; and Paul Villalobos, a Metairie attorney, all face in getting out their voters. To educate our readers on who these candidates are, The Louisiana Weekly submitted the same questionnaire to each, so you could judge them side by side.

What are your three top campaign platform planks?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: Pension Reform – I want to convert the pension systems to be more like 401(k) plans, so retirees and current employees have a retirement fund to rely on. Transparency – I want to put the detail of all expenses online for all state agencies. By doing this, I believe frivolous spending will slow down and agencies will be more accountable with our tax dollars. We will also identify areas for spending cuts. Education – continue improving education systems and expanding school choice

JACK RIZZUTO: There are five major planks in my platform. Stabilize the tax base: I support eliminating a state income tax on personal and corporate income because I believe that will create more robust spending and attract larger corporations to our state. But I do not support raising the sales tax to the highest in the nation to offset the loss of income. Instead, I believe it’s time to evaluate the effectiveness of the $3 billion in tax incentives the state provides each year. I also believe we should consider levying a tax on petroleum piped across our state. On any account, it’s time for a complete tax system overhaul in Louisiana.

Promote new jobs and protect the jobs we have: I will work with the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, the Jefferson Economic Development Corporation, the Kenner Economic Development Committee, and our area Chamber of Commerce to promote the district as a good place to do business. I will encourage using smart incentives to bring new businesses here. I will actively seek new businesses to locate in our city and region.

Continue to improve education: I will support the reforms that have made our schools more attractive; I will support more accountability measures not just for teachers and administrators, but for students and families; I will support and defend term limits on BESE and local school board members; I will protect the voucher program that allows parents of students in failing schools to choose a better education and environment for learning; I will work with our BESE and local school board members to devise the rules and regulations that build brighter minds.

Support the Streamlining Committee’s efforts to lessen bureaucracy and government costs: The Senate-led Streamlining Committee has already reduced the cost of Louisiana Government by more than $800 million. We must continue the efforts of this committee as the state grapples with a severe budget shortfall and works to eliminate duplications in government expenses.

Rekindle home ownership in Kenner and the District: If we are going to bring young families back to this district, we must work to win over their business and offer them the lifestyle they are interested in embracing. We need to support and encourage development along our riverfront and lakefront. We need to support major corridor redevelopment projects that will ensure safety, promote beautification, improve quality of life, support bike paths and walking trails, and more. The next legislator must fight for our fair share of state funds for projects like those mentioned above. The next legislator must promote bond refinancing to help the city of Kenner and this part of the state of Louisiana have the funds necessary to better develop the area.

JULIE STOKES: Use my experience as a CPA to eliminate waste in state government, Support small business and local economic development projects, and lower taxes on families and small businesses.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I would say that my top three issues are preservation and strengthening of local business; accountability of Government spending; and a fair, practical, taxation and revenue plan.

Do you support a single board for Higher Education? How can we merge academic programs to get more “bang for our buck?” What is the role of historically Black colleges like SUNO?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: Yes. If we streamline the higher education system into one board, it will allow students to transfer between systems easier and reduce the overhead of having multiple systems. We need to grow trade school or associate degree programs, so that students who cannot get into a four-year program learn skills and trades that are useful. If a college is not performing academically by graduating students then we need to close the school or merge the program with other universities.

JACK RIZZUTO: “I do support a single board for Higher Education and I do believe that we can merge some academic programs and universities. But I also understand the age-old and hard-fought-for traditions some institutions have come to symbolize. A historically Black college such as SUNO has its own rich traditions and heritage that must be preserved and promoted.”

JULIE STOKES: I am glad that UNO was transferred to the UL System. I think it fits better into this system. I think LSU is best in its own system, because it is a different type of institution than the others due to its medical and law schools as well as its extensive research focus.

A business with too many locations cannot operate efficiently and neither can our University System. Some effort needs to be undertaken to consolidate academic programs at the various universities to achieve better economies of scale. For example, if UNO has a very strong Accounting program, then perhaps students seeking Accounting degrees should be sent to UNO. That being said, you run into the problem that not every one can afford to go away to college. Without UNO, I may not have had the opportunity to attend college because we did not have the money for me to pay for room and board at LSU. Even with a partial scholarship, I still could not afford any of the other universities in the New Orleans area. The question is a complex one and deserves more discussion and study than I can afford it herein.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: As of right now I do not support a single Board for higher education, I feel that the needs of various communities within the state are too diverse to, without a uniquely structured plan, support a single Board.

If the choice for Speaker of the House is a Democrat from metro New Orleans or a Republican from North Louisiana, how would you vote, by party or region?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: My initial instinct would be to vote for a Republican Speaker, but my decision would be heavily suede by the specific candidates for the position. You could have a middle-leaning Democrat that works effectively with both parties better than a Republican in Name Only (RINO).

JACK RIZZUTO: I will only vote the interest of my district…That matters more than party.

JULIE STOKES: It would depend on the qualifications, professionalism, and integrity of the two candidates involved.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: Neither. I would vote based upon the character and qualifications of the individual regardless of party or region.

Do you support efforts by Gov. Jindal to change the law and allowing the executive branch to be able to cut across the board 10% of budget in times of deficit? If not, how would you solve this year’s $1.2 billion budgetary shortfall without raising taxes or further hobbling higher education and health care?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: No, I believe the Legislature should have responsibility to propose a solid budget that is based on conservative revenue projects rather than “best case” scenarios.

JACK RIZZUTO: No. I believe that we must take a closer look at the $3 billion in tax credits and incentives we hand out each year. Which once are effective and which one are not effective? An across the board cut is not a smart way to govern.

JULIE STOKES: Yes.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I believe it is the job of the legislature to make budget adjustments. I am not for raising taxes but how we balance a budget without touching higher education, health care, or anything else for that matter is quite a conundrum. If we want to solve the budgetary shortfall, it would seem everyone will have to pay the price to some extent.

What can you do to speed up Hurricane recovery in your district? What unique economic development proposals do you offer?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: Allowing citizens to get back to their home & businesses quicker without interference from local authorities. Commerce drives development, and by shutting down commerce we stop the recovery.

JACK RIZZUTO: I can better coordinate the dissemination of facts, news and information. I can also help direct resources to the areas that need them most.”

JULIE STOKES: There are some drainage programs that still need to be funded in this District. Some people may still be having trouble with Road Home and Elevation Grants. I will do everything in my power to help them resolve these issues.

There are many economic development proposals that I support. Some examples: Redevelopment of Kenner’s Laketown, Expansion of the RTA streetcar line in New Orleans, Potential rail projects between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, [and] the New Orleans BioMedical District.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I actually feel that hurricane recovery in my district is moving at a fine pace.

Do you support Governor Jindal’s income tax-sales tax swap? How many cents in sales tax increase should it be? Should we rely on other taxes as well? If so, what and how, beyond the proposed $1 per pack increase in cigarette taxes per pack.

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: Currently I do not support the income tax/sales tax swap. I do not agree that we should increase our already high sales tax as a means to generate state revenue. I do not agree that the state revenue should be based on consumption, and when consumption declines —either as a result of economic decline or the rise of out of state purchases by citizens going to Mississippi or Texas or purchasing online, how will the state generate consistent revenue to base the budget. Policing Internet sales reporting will end up costing more than the revenue generated to monitor it.

I think if we are modeling the revenue structure after Texas as the Gov. says he is, we need to actually use the model. Texas county’s collect and keep most of the revenue with only the state sales tax generated revenue being included in the state budget. In Louisiana, the State is collecting revenue and distributing it back to the parishes.

In general, I support the removal of the income tax and propose a property tax swap. Property taxes are deductible on Federal tax returns, and are still paid by everyone whether it is paying the bill directly to the parish or paying rent.

JACK RIZZUTO: I was the only candidate to openly oppose the idea of becoming the state with the highest sales tax in the nation. I believe that we can accomplish our goal of eliminating a state income tax by also eliminating some of the $3 billion in tax credits that are not meeting their original goals. I also believe we should explore a service fee on gas piped across our state. This was originally endorsed and promoted by Governor Dave Treen but it never was met with strong support. I believe its time has come.”

JULIE STOKES: I will have to defer a decision on that until I see the governor’s final plan. The increase would have to be revenue neutral and make Louisiana’s tax structure less complex.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I am not sold on the idea of an income tax-sales tax swap. As I have said before I want to see a specific plan before I am willing to say I am okay with such an idea. I cannot see eliminating personal and/or corporate income taxes at the expense of ludicrously high sales taxes, loss of homestead exemptions and/or internet sales that cannot be policed for sales tax.

Louisiana will soon lose the supplemental Medicaid funds that are keeping community health clinics open, and helping fund the new LSU Hospital in Mid-City. That funding can continue if the Governor Accepts increased Medicaid funding under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). Is this an answer? What do you think of Arizona GOP Gov. Jan Brewer’s solution to provide the state match? (IE, She plans to accept the monies, direct the increased funds to hospitals, and then to put a 7% tax on hospitals refunding back the amount to the state treasury to pay for the state match.) Could Louisiana learn from it, or should the Medicaid funds be rejected outright?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: I do not support Obamacare, but need to do some more research on to learn more about Arizona’s solution.

JACK RIZZUTO: I believe Louisiana can learn from the actions in Arizona and Governor Jindal should not allow partisan politics to place blinkers on his management of state funds.

JULIE STOKES: I do not believe that we should accept the Medicaid expansion and am not familiar enough with the Arizona plan to comment. It might be interesting to research however.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I am not familiar enough with the Arizona plan to consider it right for Louisiana or not. I would be interested in reviewing it further, however, as of right now I feel as though the Medicaid funds should be rejected outright.

The RSD has already taken over schools in other parishes outside Orleans. Should the model be the same? What is your stand on a state mandated Charter Magnate School in every parish? On type Two Charters drawing from Multi-parish areas?

ALLISON BENT BOWLER: I think the RSD should begin reducing its role in direct school supervision of schools. If there is a need for an entire selective admissions school, then the parish should open one. If not, there should be a specific program within one of the public or charter schools to offer the gifted kids the opportunity to be in the accelerated program.

JACK RIZZUTO: I do support uniformity in rules and regulations. I also support local rule and believe that each municipality or parish should be allowed to makes its own decisions on what’s best for that community. I think all charter schools should operate under a universal set of guidelines, but not every parish must be mandated to have a charter school.

JULIE STOKES: I am in favor of school choice and the charter system.

PAUL VILLALOBOS: I think that every Parish and every school district is unique and, as such, one cannot use the exact same model in urban New Orleans as in a more rural part of the state. I don’t see the need for a state mandated charter school in every parish. I think whether or not type Two Charters should draw from Multi-parish areas is a question to be answered based upon the size of the parishes (both in population and geography) and the proximity and convenience of access to the school building.

This article originally published in the February 27, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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