THIBODAUX, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana gubernatorial candidates unanimously agreed Tuesday that restoring the state's coast and wetlands is an essential project for the years ahead.
"It's as important to the people in Cheboygan and Chicago, as it is to the people in Shreveport and Shongaloo," said Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Republican.
All four candidates met for a forum focused on coastal issues at Nicholls State University Tuesday afternoon. The event was put on by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
Acknowledging the state's recent fiscal issues, the candidates all agreed that state money for the project could not be drained to cover other costs or to make up for budget shortfalls.
"The coastal funds is one of those areas I would put completely off limits in terms of solving our overall fiscal problems," said Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter.
Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Republican, went so far as to say he would make misappropriating funds designated for coastal work a crime.
"We cannot effectively make progress waging war by robbing Peter to pay Paul. And by the way, Peter's pretty broke right now as well," Angelle said.
Taking a jab at the current administration, Rep. Jon Bel Edwards, the lone Democrat, said he would manage the budget in a way that allocated for restoration needs.
"We have to have an honest and disciplined budgeting process, unlike what we've seen under Gov. Jindal, where he inherited a billion dollar surplus that is gone," he said.
Edwards recommended the state partner with local governments and private individuals to help get projects completed. Dardenne, who said he opposes tax exclusions in general, said he would consider incentivizing ways to speed up the restoration work.
"This may be an area where we want to create some innovative credits for businesses that are able to complete work quickly and do innovation," he said.
The state introduced the Coastal Restoration Master Plan a few years ago as a guidebook for overall project.
Vitter said that after all these years, it is time to stop with delays and put the plan into practice. He said upon entering office, he would focus on three or five projects in earnest.
"We cannot study this to death," Vitter said. "If we study and study and study some more it will be too late. We need to do."
Vitter said one way to avoid delaying work on the coast is to not allow politics to interfere in work.
"Everything needs to be science based," Vitter said. "We cannot deviate from that and we can't play politics with this stuff."
Candidates also debated the roll of oil.
"We must continue to make certain that the Gulf of Mexico is a viable and competitive place to explore and produce hydrocarbons," Angelle said.
Edwards, meanwhile, suggested that that oil companies cannot be given free reign.
"State policy should not be to immunize any private interests that may have contributed to coastal erosion through activities that were illegal," Edwards said.
The election is on October 24.