Gov. John Bel Edwards

Gov. John Bel Edwards (center) speaks with reporters after a meeting of the Baton Rouge Press Club on Oct. 28.

Gov. John Bel Edwards said this week he was “not giving up on tax reform” if he is reelected next month, though he didn’t express confidence lawmakers would agree to restructure the state's tax system.

He said he supports eliminating tax exemptions and reductions in exchange for lower rates.

“Our system is unnecessarily complex,” he said. “The nominal rate is, in many cases, not the effective rate.”

Edwards, a Democrat, spoke Monday to the Baton Rouge Press Club. His Republican challenger, first-time candidate and businessman Eddie Rispone, did not attend the forum, though organizers said he was invited.

Edwards and Rispone will face off in a televised debate Wednesday night.

During his first term, Edwards supported several changes to the state’s tax system that had been recommended by a task force the legislature created. Lawmakers did not support any of them at a time when the state was thought to be in a fiscal crisis, and Edwards said he didn’t “have any great confidence” that would change when state government is running surpluses.

Edwards has touted his ability to work across party lines, but the legislature’s Republican majority has blocked his efforts to raise the state’s minimum wage and pass legislation he argued would address what he says is the state’s gender pay gap. GOP lawmakers have argued in part that both policy positions were unwelcome government intrusions in the private sector. Edwards said he would keep pushing both initiatives, saying he believed the state minimum wage should be between $9 and $9.50 per hour. Louisiana does not currently have a state minimum wage, adhering instead to the federal rate of $7.25.

Republicans increased their majority in the state's open primary election earlier this month, when all candidates run against each other regardless of party, and may attain a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of the legislature in the second round, which will be held on Nov. 16.

Rispone, the co-founder of a large industrial contractor, does not support raising the minimum wage. He has said the state's complex tax structure and the legislature's limited ability to prioritize spending could be addressed in a constitutional convention he wants to call.

'We have to make Louisiana competitive with the rest of the country and that's where we start," Rispone said of tax reform at a debate prior to the Oct. 5 primary. "And the articles I would definitely look at are revenue and taxation. We have to be competitive. We have to create jobs in Louisiana. In order to compete, we need to have something done with our taxes and revenue."

Unlike Rispone, Edwards does not support calling a constitutional convention, saying it could lead to cuts to K-12 education and other priorities.

“My approach doesn’t change,” Edwards said Monday. “I will sit at the table with anyone.”

If reelected, he said his top priority for higher spending would be early childhood education, a subject that attracted bipartisan support during the most recent session.

Edwards, an attorney and former U.S. Army Ranger, is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South.

 

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