WALKER – Both individuals and businesses need help to succeed and the five candidates for the District 71 seat in the state House of Representatives have their ideas.

Lori Callais, Johnathan Davis, Ivy Graham, Robert Poole, and Buddy Mincey Jr. all participated in the Chamber of Commerce State Legislative Candidates Forum on Thursday at Wholly Grounds Coffeehouse in Walker.

MINIMUM WAGE

“We need a living wage, said Callais in response to the opening question about raising the minimum wage. “I spent 10½ years teaching the working poor at the Walker Adult Center.

"Some people held two or three jobs to make $15,000 a year,” she said.

“A minimum wage hinders economic growth and hinders the workplace," Davis said.

“The minimum wage defines the maximum wage,” said Poole. The state needs to expand the economic opportunity for people by offering quality education, he said.

“If you raise the minimum wage, you raise the cost of everything else,” Graham said.

Mincey said at one time he was the superintendent of a job site with 500 workers, and now as a member of the School Board, he oversees 3,500 employees in schools.

“I believe the markets should be what we use to dictate wages,” Mincey said.

EDUCATION

“We need to support teachers,” said Callais, a retired teacher. Education needs more funding and pre-kindergarten should be offered to all children, she said.

The federal government should not be involved in education, Davis said. “The School Board should be more in charge than the federal government,” he said.

“Scrap Common Core,” said Poole, and “replace John White.” Poole said he had nothing against White, the state education superintendent, but he is in charge of the state system that is “50th of 50.”

Students also should be required to pass two classes American history and free enterprise, Poole said, so students will know about their nation and the economic system that drives it.

Graham agreed that “Common Core is a tragedy,” and teachers are being forced to “teach to the test.”

ECONOMY

Improving the economic landscape for business prompt many ideas from the candidates seeking to replace J. Rogers Popes, who could not run again due to term limits.

Small businesses could be helped by cutting taxes and regulations, Davis said.

Poole said as chairman of the economic development district that oversees the Bass Pro project, he supports the use of the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) program.

The Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) also could be helpful, Poole said, calling it a “mechanism to attract business.” But Poole said business does not pay taxes – “It collects it from us and remits it to the authorities.”

Tax reform in Louisiana would make businesses more competitive, according to Graham, with a “flattened tax scale.”

Mincey also cited lower taxes and fewer regulations as ways to help business, along with the ITEP.

When business looks at Louisiana, it looks at the education system and the infrastructure, Callais said, since it needs a workforce and a way to get its products to market.

WORKFORCE

Keeping the state’s young workers here is a challenge, Callais said. Her own three daughters work in other states because they are “paid better.”

To improve the workforce, she said, involves issues such as education to help create employees and infrastructure to attract businesses.

Easing regulations and providing incentives to business would attract them to the state and create jobs, Davis said.

Poole had one answer – “economic development.”

“The jobs have to be here,” for young people to stay, he said.

A clean tax structure and tax incentives through ITEP would help attract business, Graham said.

“Get rid of taxes,” would attract business, Davis said, citing the severance tax and inventory tax.

 “We need better state government,” Mincey said to improve the workforce the state is producing. This means continuing TOPS, he said.

TAXING AND INFRASTRUCTURE

“I’m not a fan of expanding the gas tax,” Poole said, but the issue is not a larger tax but a “more effective use of the tax.”

One cent of the tax equals $30 million in the trust fund, he said, and the Metropolitan Planning Organizations around the state have “lists of projects that are underfunded because of the poor use of taxes collected.”

Mincey also said he was against an increase in the gas tax, but agreed, “We have to have accountability.”

Graham also cited numbers: Of 20 cents in the tax, only 2 cents goes to roads and bridges.

“That is unacceptable,” she said, favoring a review of the state Department of Transportation and Development to “move money back to roads and bridges.”

According to Callais, 67 percent of the public approves of a tax raise, “but 100 percent don’t trust us,” to spend it on roads.

“We must instill trust,” by locking in the current gas tax to be spent on roads and bridges.  

CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION

On the idea of a possible constitutional convention, Callais said she would not oppose it but wants to know who is pushing it.

“Will they do it in a fair and honest manner,” she asked.

Poole said he supports a convention to redirect spending controlled by the budget, while Davis said he would support a convention only if it were limited in its scope and there was a Republican governor.

Ivy Graham said people support a convention thinking the state would have something similar to the federal constitution.

“The problem is; What would happen at the actual constitutional convention,” she asked.

“The current structure limits us,” Mincey said, supporting the idea of a convention.

But funding for education should be protected, he added.

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