Louisiana’s lieutenant governor candidates show keen interest in economic development

Louisiana’s four candidates for lieutenant governor all hinted today that they would like to take a more active role in economic development if elected to the state’s second-highest public position.

While economic development has its own agency and is generally overseen by the governor, the candidates were asked during a Press Club of Baton Rouge forum whether they would support the idea of moving that area of state affairs into the lieutenant governor’s office.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, former Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and Jefferson Parish President John Young did not say directly that they would want the office moved under their purview, but they did indicate they would be willing to take on extra economic development duties.

While Young said the governor is the “the straw that stirs the drink” in that category, he said the lieutenant governor can still make a significant impact in economic development while being “one heartbeat away from the governor.”

“I think that person goes and calls upon companies not only to come to Louisiana, but to stay in Louisiana,” Young said.

State Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas said he would not want to see economic development heaped directly onto the lieutenant governor’s plate, at least for the short term while he learned the intricacies of the office. But over time, Guillory said, he’d be willing to discuss the idea.

“They are closely aligned,” Guillory said of economic development and tourism, which the lieutenant governor does oversee. “I will certainly be involved in economic development. I believe that jobs are crucial to the prosperity of Louisiana and Louisiana’s future.”

Holden, the lone Democrat in the race, took a more emphatic stance, saying the lieutenant governor can take a more involved approach in economic development and that there are “no lines stuck in cement” that would prevent him from helping to lure more projects here.

“So you go out, you hustle, and then you make the jobs available to people,” Holden said.

Nungesser voiced a similar position to Holden’s.

“You’ve got to be willing to do the heavy lifting, and don’t care who gets the credit. We don’t have to cut ribbons to create jobs,” he said.

The candidates covered far more than just economic development at today’s forum. On aging and underfunded state parks—which fall under the lieutenant governor’s office—Holden said he would work with local governments to rebuild any aging facilities. Guillory said the state budget needs to be revamped to free up dollars to better invest money in state parks.

Nungesser called for both short-term and long-term funding plans to meet both immediate and future needs for the parks, while Young said he would work with the next governor and the Legislature to find a way to better fund the parks.

Whoever takes over as lieutenant governor will have to help address the future of the film industry in Louisiana, which is cloudy after the Legislature voted this year to cap the state’s generous film tax credit program at $180 million annually.

All four candidates voiced support for the tax credit program and were wary of the cap. Nungesser and Young pleaded for greater transparency and accountability in the program, while Holden suggested imposing both financial and criminal penalties for offenders. Guillory offered the idea of capping the program film by film, but not as a whole.

The four candidates are vying to replace Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who is running for governor. Early voting has begun for this election and ends Saturday. The general election is Oct. 24. If necessary, a runoff will be held Nov. 21.

—Robert Stewart

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