What plans do you have keep our high school students from becoming drop outs and staying in school?
Louisiana must lower the dropout rate to afford students a better future and to provide a well-educated workforce for a strong economy. Students must be better prepared in the early grades, beginning in pre-kindergarten, and be provided the tutoring and remediation necessary to advance. I will create a major new tutorial program for the early grades, using schools after current school hours and in the summer, to boost children's chances of success. It will involve paying teachers and other staff for the additional work, and I am prepared to do that.
Secondly, we must make school more relevant to students. The high school redesign effort under way at the Louisiana Department of Education shows promise in aligning curricula to reflect the needs of those who want a college degree and those who desire other work skills that match job opportunities. That means financing career pathways from high school to colleges and universities. We need to improve transition programs from middle school to high school and increase counseling.
What are your views on hunter's rights and do you feel any changes need to be made to the state's current hunting laws?
As the sponsor of the Youth Hunting Days program and an active hunter myself, I see no need for changes in current hunting laws.
One state employee says this is the first time in 16 years that Classified State Employees got a raise. She wants to know that since it is the norm for raises to go to faculty or higher education, what is the plan for raise incentives for Classified State Employees?
State employees, like those in education, should be paid adequately and receive salaries that reflect the rising cost of living. I will consider an incentive program for employees who devise methods that streamline red-tape or that save the state money.
People and businesses across northwest Louisiana want to see Interstate 49 finished, yet only bits and pieces of it are being worked on. What are your plans for getting I-49 finished in northwest Louisiana and what is your timetable to get it done?
I-49 plans are moving ahead fairly rapidly now due to the appropriation of additional funding by the 2007 Legislature. Construction of this vital highway has lagged because Louisiana has a $14 billion backlog in transportation maintenance and construction.
I'm the only candidate for Governor with a plan to provide the revenue needed to reduce this backlog significantly and to address other critical needs, such as healthcare and education. By instituting a small fee on foreign oil processed in the state, we can raise $5.5 billion each year. Even after eliminating the state income tax and the current severance tax, Louisiana will have more than $1.7 billion in additional revenue each year. I will bond some of that revenue for highway construction, providing a quick infusion of billions of dollars for highway construction. In this way, I will speed up construction of I-49 and other necessary road projects throughout the state.
State economists said this week the next governor could possibly see an extra one-billion dollars in revenue for next year. What would be your plans for the extra funding?
I would dedicate most of the new budget surplus to paying down the state debt. Currently we have huge unfunded liabilities in state employees' retirement and health systems. We must pay interest on this debt each year but the state has not been able to pay down the liability. Paying down the debt will free up dollars devoted to interest payments as well as put the retirement and health insurance systems on sounder footing. This is a conservative approach to handling taxpayers' money.
In the last session, the legislature made long-term commitments on short-term "one time" money. If it becomes necessary, to either cut government spending or increases taxes... which would you do and why?
a. If the answer to the above is "cut spending"-- in which departments and programs?
b. If the answer to the above is "increase taxes," which ones?
i. Property taxes
ii. Sales taxes
iii. Individual income taxes
iv. Corporate income taxes
v. Other corporate taxes
Because of the amount of construction in South Louisiana due to recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I do not anticipate a shortfall in state revenues in the next few years. Furthermore, when we pass my plan for an oil processing fee, we will put $3.1 billion back into the pockets of the people of Louisiana, creating an economic boom that will lead to more jobs and additional state revenue. The fee will still produce additional funding that will allow us to make significant progress on expensive state needs, such as highways, port improvements, coastal restoration and healthcare.
What about the Stelly tax... eliminate it, further modify it, or leave it as it is?
My plan to eliminate the income tax completely makes discussion of the Stelly tax moot.
Do you support the continued use of tax credits like the movie production credit? Are there any you would discontinue?
Without an income tax, there will be no need for income tax credits like the movie production credit. Producers, like many other businesses, will find Louisiana a much more attractive location for business because I will eliminate both the corporate and personal income taxes.
Do you believe that the teacher pay strategy should place more emphasis on teacher performance and student achievement, or on teacher seniority and degree level?
Merit pay programs for teachers have been tried in several states and districts, but few if any have been fair or effective. Judging teachers on the basis of a single test score like the LEAP, without regard to the academic skills of individual students, is not advisable. All teachers should be paid adequately and expected to perform well. If they don't, schools and districts should work to improve their performance and winnow them out if they are determined to be ineffective.
Do you think the state should continue to operate 10 charity hospitals? If so, should LSU maintain authority over them?
The LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport should be the model for a new, reformed state hospital system. It provides high-quality care for both insured and uninsured patients and trains the physicians and other health personnel we all depend on. I support doing the same with the new LSU academic teaching hospital in New Orleans, to be built in conjunction with a new Veterans Administration hospital. I am committed to relying on LSU to operate the state hospitals, but new partnerships involving private healthcare providers will develop as the "medical home" model is implemented.