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21.9.06

Voters need to reject Caddo, Bossier Parish tax increases

Both Caddo and Bossier Parishes are requesting on Sep. 30 that their citizens allow their taxes to be increased. In both cases, the people are better off keeping their money.

It doesn’t take much thought to reject the Caddo request. It is almost the same request made a couple of years ago rejected at the polls, but things have been changed since that may more efficiently use taxpayers’ dollars in funding juvenile justice in the parish – if given the time. State Rep. Mike Powell got passed a law that reorganizes operations in that area to a certain extent, and this needs to be given a couple of years trial before more costly solutions are tried.

Bossier presents a stronger case but ultimately its request deserves rejection as well. An analysis of the request and a stroll through the parish’s financial reports shows why.

To begin, note that the kinds of road improvements that comprise the request are the kind that would be nice and convenient to have, but are not crucial, at least relative to the most recent big road project of the parish, widening of Airline Drive. Yes, they probably would reduce traffic hassles for some, but they do not have the impact justifying almost tripling the current level of the tax.

In reality, the vast majority of the request actually is more a favor to Bossier City than the parish – lengthening of the Arthur Ray Teague Parkway to loop over to Highway 71, connecting a thruway to two parts of the city almost all of which would go through non-city jurisdiction. By that standard, it’s better to work out some deal with the city since it will mainly benefit it than to have parish taxpayers foot the bill.

(And the city has every incentive to cooperate, to gain control over where to site the extension given the presence of a federal wildlife refuge close by. Both the city and parish let that get by, causing a panicked reaction last spring by some city and parish officials who felt so insecure about the situation that they had circulated fliers asking residents to contact the federal government about this. Fortunately, a satisfactory solution to all parties for now was worked out.)

Especially when removing that from taxpayer considerations, the remainder of the requests easily may be accomplished given existing resources (which means renewing the tax at its existing assessed 1.99 mills level, not the requested 6.40 mills level). The parish is flush with over $5 million in its highway fund at the end of 2005 (so much so in fact, it transferred out nearly $4.5 million after collecting about $1.5 million above expenditures, mainly due to higher sales tax revenues and lower expenses, most of the excess going to the Airline Drive work which now is winding down, although $75,000 went to general government expenses). Economic trends give no indication that the fund will not see continued surpluses moved into it over the next few years.

And if other revenues were needed, the parish’s current financial health is such that no additional resources are necessary. Reviewing the highway fund for this year, through the first eight months of the year (that is, 75 percent of it) only 62.59 percent of the budget was spent. This shows that there is enough slack to be allocated for other purposes (however, governments typically spend up to their budgeted amounts because they want to make it appear that they need all the money they have available, so look for the fourth quarter to be a big spending quarter on roads in Bossier Parish).

As for the rest of the parish’s operations, results from 2005 showed strong revenue-over-expenditure growth expected in 2006, a condition likely to continue. Again, this leaves no reason to believe that the lesser improvements around which the increased request was formulated could not be financed in a pay-as-you-go situation, or even the entire package.

n short, the importance of the roads to the parish relative to its existing financial health does not justify extracting an extra $2 million or more a year out of property owners (in reality, just a handful of them given the homestead exemption). Bossier Parish voters need to turn this down, with the Police Jury coming back next year asking for a renewal of just 2 mills which is all they need if they want to pursue this agenda.

20.9.06

Going negative helps, hurts Shreveport mayoral hopefuls

There’s not been much negativity in the Shreveport mayor’s contest to date. That well may change in the closing days of the contest, but certain candidates will do better than others from it – if they pick the correct targets to demonize.

Polling consistently has shown that Republican former city attorney Jerry Jones essentially has secured a place in the general election runoff Nov. 7. Other Republican candidates that have the potential to do well, state Sen. Max Malone and former city economic developer Arlena Acree, might be tempted to sling some mud his way to capture some of his intended voters.

However, the problem is that while negative campaigning, or pointing out other candidates’ faults real or imagined, often is effective, all it can do is dislodge some votes from candidates and cannot guarantee that these freed votes will go to the one doing this campaigning. In other words, if Acree goes negative on Jones, she might be sending votes Malone’s way, and vice versa. To compound their difficulty, Jones has such a lead on the rest of the field at this point that he still probably has more than enough support to make the runoff despite any barrage of negative campaigning.

By contrast, former city spokeswoman and Democrat Liz Swaine has almost the opposite problem. Given her name recognition that produced benign feelings about her prior to the contest, her best strategy would have been to run a campaign as issueless as possible. Instead, by design or accident, she foolishly allowed her opponents to put her into the position of defending her employer Democrat Mayor Keith Hightower who in the past four years has made a number of decisions not well-received in Shreveport. Negative attacks on her only will compound her sinking status.

Worse for her, she has little to gain by adopting that strategy. For one thing, it would further erode the good feelings about her which has kept her as a viable candidate. Also, she has no good target on which to unleash an attack that would benefit her. Since Jones also holds a big lead over her she would waste resources attacking him. And she rests in a position where she cannot really attack the opponents closest to her that she must in order to get into a runoff with Jones, Democrats state Rep. Cedric Glover and former television executive Ed Bradley. This is because she is unlikely to peel off members of their mainly-black base; instead, successful attacks on her part would send Glover voters to Bradley and vice versa, with few coming her way.

In reality, only Jones, Bradley, and Glover would benefit from a negative strategy. Jones could cement his chances of a runoff against a black Democrat by going after Swaine (but he really doesn’t need to do this, given his current position and Swaine’s decline), while Glover attacks on Bradley would pull the latter’s voters to him, and vice versa. So in these final few campaign days, look for a spirited skirmish across media that disproportionately attracts a black audience to see which black Democrat can pull himself into a runoff with Jones.

19.9.06

Jones waits on Bradley, Glover for Shreveport mayor's runoff

We get a look at the “Between the Lines echo effect” again with another poll released by the Shreveport Times, confirming the trends articulated and predicted here last month.

Perhaps most notable about the results here is, frankly, just how poorly this poll is tapping into vote intentions. Undecided voters going up? Almost every candidate losing support? Combine these oddities with the fact that a couple of weeks out from the primary election a third of the electorate, with almost half of blacks, remain undecided, these results tell us either we are seeing a once-in-a-lifetime contest, or people just aren’t responding well to this polling.

(This explanation certainly is more valid than the one offered by the pollster, who claimed it was an artifact of “negative” campaigning. That guess defies much of what we know about the impact of political campaigns; typically, undecided respondents’ numbers drop, particularly this close to an election – and in one where there was little negative advertising up to the time of the polling. It was unusual to have a third undecided almost a month ago; it’s incredible to have even more undecided only days away from the contest. A far more plausible explanation is that many prior, older responses were given only on the basis of name recognition and did not indicate any real intention of future voting, which is especially apparent among black respondents. It’s only now, reflected in the results of this poll, that you are registering serious vote intentions.)

Let’s do assume for the moment that we do have a good poll (meaning the sample does in fact represent the views of the population polled; a standard in the industry is that one out of twenty times it won’t). If so, what was predicted in this space last month is coming to pass; specifically:

  • Republican former city attorney Jerry Jones is cruising to a spot in the general election runoff and is the favorite to win that, although that depends on his competition there.
  • State Sen. Max Malone, also a Republican, simply started campaigning too late. He will draw much more of the vote than what he is polling (2 percent), but not enough to make the runoff
  • As more people pay attention to the campaign and as more information comes out, Democrat former city spokeswoman Liz Swaine is going nowhere, if not losing ground. It’s almost lights out now for Swaine, because the results suggest she hasn’t made enough inroads with white voters to challenge for a runoff spot and she’s running out of them – fewer than a quarter are undecided.
  • Former city economic developer Arlena Acree was the only candidate other than Jones to make progress, but she appears to be making more headway among undecided whites than Swaine. But, like Swaine, it won’t be enough to put her in the runoff.
  • This is because the vast majority of undecided black voters will not break in either females’ direction. Instead, they will go for one of state Rep. Cedric Glover or former television executive Ed Bradley, Democrats both. Even if they each only took 20 percent each of that 46 percent black undecided, both would be close to 20 percent of the total vote and each might still edge out Swaine. If either can get at least two-thirds of the black undecided vote, Swaine has no chance.

    So really there’s just one question left now over the next ten days: can either Glover or Bradley seize a majority of the black vote and thereby put himself in the runoff with Jones? The odds favor Glover succeeding in this quest, but Bradley’s not out of it. And if one of the black Democrats does get the upper hand, it likely makes Jones Shreveport’s next mayor.
  • 18.9.06

    LA property owners better off with amendment passages

    The three constitutional amendments designed to define better the expropriation powers of Louisiana government, numbers 4, 5 and 6, have drawn criticism from various quarters. Nevertheless, with criticisms ranging from the thin to absurd, they deserve passage on Sep. 30.

    Some of the critiques do have merit, if only in an improbable, hypothetical sense. Lawyer Paul Hurd has argued that the expropriation amendments create a Trojan horse situation that actually could increase government power in this area. Hurd envisions scenarios apocalyptic even by Louisiana hyper-politicized standards where an unseemly coalition of political elites could manipulate the process.

    However, he probably misjudges the checks and balances involved. The judiciary would have to be corrupt all the way to the top (or wishes to engage in unfettered activism as in the Louisiana Supreme Court’s recent majority decision to ignore the Constitution regarding pardons and convicted felons running for office), but that’s no different from the present arrangement. And the public may well have its own say in these decisions, having to vote on bond issuances to fund these projects. That a justification that something fits an exempted prohibited category improves upon the current situation, where now basically this step is skipped because anything qualifies.

    (Note also that the text of some of these amendments in large came from language provided by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that has provided some outstanding work in the protection of liberty for many years; this group defended property owners in the Connecticut case that opened the floodgates for government usurpation of private property last year. A measure endorsed by this organization provides a lot reassurance that this measure will do what it is intended.)

    This increased difficulty actually brings complaints from others. Despite its many exceptions, they claim it will impede government in sponsoring recovery from the hurricane disasters of 2005 and would cause “confusion.”

    But this attitude belies a faith in government and a belief that government from the bench rather than by its majoritarian institutions is best. The exact problem caused by the current arrangement is that the power to decide whether any expropriation could occur rests in the hands of judges. These changes would limit the kinds of expropriation to occur – change brought about by the majoritarian branches and the people directly through their votes – so that the matter of expropriation becomes one defined mostly by the people where judges must justify exceptions, rather than putting the burden on opponents of expropriation to show any request without limitations would have deleterious effects.

    It is much better to have the people remove most expropriation instances from consideration, limiting the scope of judicial activism on this matter, than to decline setting standards leaving it wide open for judicial mischief. This “confusion” objected to by opponents to the rest of the state is seen as vital safeguards ensuring liberty; purposes clearly qualifying as a genuine societal need will not be affected. What will be affected is the agenda of those who believe government should direct economic activity; now, one tool to do so will be removed from their collectivist arsenal.

    While these amendments are not entirely perfect (for example, allowing expropriation for projects like convention centers which usually are a waste of taxpayer dollars: see this example), they do strengthen liberty in Louisiana, and therefore must be approved.

    17.9.06

    Louisiana can do better than "follow-the-leader" Blanco

    In Louisiana politics there are leaders and then, well, there’s Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Once again, the barn door has closed and she’s off chasing a horse, this time one connected rationality in the state budgeting process.

    One of the more irrational features of the process is typically the capital outlay bill having more spending in it than is constitutionally allowed. Fiscal year 2007 is no exception and Blanco’s staff recently released the list of projects that made the cut, that can be funded with the money available (this being one way in which the Legislature allows the governor to push it around, by letting her office make in essence the final decision on what gets funded).

    With the releasing of the list, her staff took the opportunity to tout how they chose to segregate requests into different categories, and then choosing on the basis of priority (defined by them) within categories. It’s a small step that might produce funded projects more on merit and less on politics, in contrast to attempts last year at this time.

    However, the idea itself is nothing new as the person who oversees the next step of the process, the authorizing of bond sales to cover the costs, state Treasurer John Kennedy, last year suggested that the body responsible for this, the Bond Commission, be able to do essentially the same. He offered this idea to the Commission in the post-disaster environment where dollars were more precious than ever – and the plan got incinerated by the Commission, controlled by a majority of Blanco, her appointee, and legislative loyalists.

    Maybe Kennedy should try again as it seems he would get a much better reception this time. But the episode is yet another example revealing Blanco’s base political instincts – a blend of liberalism and populism where politics, not principle, guides most decision-making, where governing is done primarily on behalf of supportive constituencies with the rest of the state’s citizens represent mere afterthought. Only when the citizenry voice sufficient complaint does Blanco change course more to their liking.

    We’ve seen it time and time again – her resistance to flood control reform that resulted in millions being spent on an extra special session, her not wanting to provide a partial bailout of homeowner’s insurance premiums triggered by failures of state administration that she now seems to favor, and then this. Wouldn’t Louisiana be better off by having a governor who naturally leads by putting the people ahead of cronies, instead of having to drag Blanco along to accomplish the same?