Search This Blog


Desperate consolidation opponents advance silly arguments

You know you’re on to a good idea when all its opponents can do is to come up with gobbledygook in opposition. State Rep. Jeff Arnold confirmed as such with his inane comments about why Orleans Parish governments should not be consolidated.

Arnold contends that Orleans seven assessors and two judicial systems, while every other parish suffers with just one or each, should be left alone because (1) it has fewer elected officials per capita than any other parish and (2) the cost per citizen to run the assessing in Orleans (by the way, Arnold’s father is one of the seven). (It should be noted that Arnold bases these assertions on 2000 census data of around 482,000, not the revised 2004 estimate of about 462,000, nor the January best estimate of about 156,000.)

Let’s investigate the logic, or rather illogic, behind this thinking. New Orleans/Orleans Parish is essentially a metropolitan government that is just one city and lacking a formal parish government. By contrast, other large-population parishes such as Jefferson or even formal metropolitan government such as in East Baton Rouge have other incorporated areas with their own officials which dilute this average. And when we turn to smaller-populated parishes, economies of scale are lost: rural parishes that struggle to have 10,000 residents often have the same number of police jurors as do parishes with much larger populations.

In other words, on this statistic, New Orleans comes out with a higher number of residents per officials because it happens to have (had) the most people and because of an accident of political geography. And note the illogic behind the presumption: if New Orleans does not have too many, then shouldn’t Arnold be championing consolidation of other parishes’ governments?

The same applies to the argument about per citizen costs being the lowest. Setting up the infrastructure for an assessor costs roughly the same for any parish whether you have 10,000 or 400,000 people. In fact, operating costs may be higher in rural parishes because of the much greater distances assessors must travel to property, and the much larger land holdings that must be evaluated. Where they would not be, it would be as a result of the higher personnel costs exacerbated by the duplication of services times seven, even if having 40 times the number of people dilutes the per resident figure. (And I wonder where is more “efficient” on a per parcel, rather than per person, basis – it’s not people but parcels being assessed). So, again, why this statistic comes out this way is just a function of a denser population packed into a smaller area, not any inherent advantages to having so many officials.

Now compare Orleans’ costs with Harris County, Texas. Even with a larger Houston city council and a five-member Harris County Commission, with its 2 million people, you can bet Harris has fewer elected officials per person than Orleans, and its single appraiser spends less per citizen than Orleans. So what does Arnold want the state to do, go out and kidnap people to boost our population to get better economies of scale in operating local government?

I don’t have the statistics, but I’ll bet if you took total assessing costs per parish and divide them by units assessed, Orleans would fare very poorly – that’s the relevant metric. When dealing with statistics, it’s not enough just to throw out numbers you also must investigate the theory behind it. And Arnold’s pathetic attempt to save his father’s job and patronage opportunities reveals the ridiculous arguments behind it.

No comments: