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Dardenne proposes reviewing tax breaks to help La. budget

MELINDA DESLATTE

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Monday that the state needs to re-examine tax breaks as a way to raise money for the budget and to seriously consider whether to expand Medicaid.

Those positions outlined by Dardenne, who is running for governor in the 2015 election, put him at odds with term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Dardenne said the state should review the billions of dollars in tax credits, exemptions and rebates to determine if they serve a worthwhile purpose. Unlike Jindal, he didn't set the parameter that any tax breaks taken off the books should be replaced with a tax cut elsewhere.

"We've got to be practical about those benefits that are being granted and make sure that they're fair to other taxpayers in Louisiana, and everything needs to be on the table," Dardenne told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

On Medicaid expansion, Dardenne said Louisiana hasn't looked "objectively" at whether it should take the billions of dollars in federal money offered under the federal health care overhaul to extend insurance coverage to the working poor.

He said the discussion should include the medical community and non-partisan legislative budget analysts and consider a Louisiana-specific insurance coverage plan.

"I don't think we've done the kind of sincere scrutiny that we should," he said.

The stances reflect an acknowledgement of Louisiana's ongoing budget troubles and a refusal to rule out potential ways to help balance future spending plans.

The other contenders in the governor's race, Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter and Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards, both have made similar statements about a tax break review. Edwards supports Medicaid expansion outright, while Vitter has shown a willingness to look at the idea.

Jindal and lawmakers have struggled with budget shortfalls for the last six years, and the gap in next year's budget is forecast at $1.2 billion. The Legislature's chief economist predicts the state's financial troubles will continue into the next governor's term.

Dardenne said the state's boom in oil and gas development and the influx of jobs expected to come with that could help improve the state's financial picture.

"The hope is that the out years will improve quite a bit, but I certainly don't stand here and tell you that there's going to be an immediate turnaround that'll take place in early January 2016. I think we're going to continue to see some of the challenges," Dardenne said.

On other issues, Dardenne pledged that if elected, he'd have a more transparent administration than Jindal, who has been criticized for secrecy. He described Jindal's privatization of nearly all of the LSU hospital system that cares for the poor and uninsured as a good concept, but he said the implementation still needs to work.

Dardenne also tried to distinguish himself from his Republican opponent, tying Vitter to the partisan gridlock of Washington and describing himself in more bipartisan terms.

"We don't need Washington politics and Washington practices to make Louisiana prosper," Dardenne said.

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