At year's end, more unintentional humor wafted from the Bossier City Council chambers as it concluded its 2010 budget deliberations under the rarest conditions: actual debate and dissent forsaking its typical Politburo-like unanimity behind Mayor Lo “Obama Lite” Walker. But at least the end product and comments about it showed some awakening from the dream its members blissfully and ignorantly have lived in for the past dozen or so years.
The passed version took a more nuanced approach than Lo Ob Lite’s meat cleaver approach in hacking away at the debt-induced deficit. In the end, it eliminated only five line fireman, so if attrition isn’t too bad over the next year with a hiring freeze in effect, the city may yet avoid losing its Class 1 firing rating and prevent passing its mistakes on to property owners in the form of higher insurance rates. Freezing many salaries, especially at the top levels, also was welcome and another year or so of this might actually bring top bureaucrats’ salaries in line with their counterparts in Shreveport who typically have more responsibilities to deal with.
However, the black comedy continued when the Council pledged throughout 2010 to monitor the budget to forestall any unpleasant surprises such as happened late this year. It’s a wonder that the audience did not then stand and break into sustained applause for the Council’s members saying they’ll actually do their jobs for once, rather than spend their time celebrating their names going onto plaques and signs on city buildings and roads. Anytime this past year, as each of them knew the national economy was going into the tank, they could have made a few calls and found out from the city, which keeps regular tally on this, how far behind its revenue projections were running.
(If they were actually in the dark. Since the city does keep regular tabs on revenues and it was clear to all the decline in the economy, do not be surprised if LOL kept a deficit projection quiet, and even warned councilmen running for reelection to do the same, so that word would not leak out prior to qualifying for city elections, information about which surely would have drawn many more opponents to perhaps send them and Walker packing as a result of the spring election.)
But while common sense has been in short supply on the Council for ages, at least there are faint signs at least some of its members are acquiring some. No such luck is evident from LOL and some sycophants in their support, however, of his idea that the city call an election to raise property taxes. Yet before dismissing this stupidity as a classic case of cognitive dissonance, understand the political motivation behind this thinking.
As by now is well known, Bossier City doesn’t have a revenue problem, but a spending problem. This is because by the end of 2008 it had taken on more than $317 million in debt, or more than $4,900 per capita (with more on the way – looks like the city will have to spring for a sewerage fix that will cost $21 million). Repaying this equates in the neighborhood of a quarter of the city’s total revenues annually – for the next 15 years, then it slowly begins to diminish. To put it another way, the total receipts minus earnings by the U.S. government budgeted for 2010 are about a fifth of its total debt; Bossier City’s total receipts minus business operations are about a seventh of its total debt – and Bossier City can’t print more money to mask its deficit. Repaying debt has sucked away resources that could have gone to financing sensible current operations.
Although Bossier City is exceptional in its huge debt, by contrast it is average in its property tax level. Among its four peer cities in Louisiana, two are higher, two are lower (and all noticeably lower in debt), shattering the myth that it is “under-taxed.” LOL’s plan rests on this assumption, as he is asking the Council to approve an election that if successful would raise property taxes to the rate prior to constitutional reduction.
Of course, after making repeated statements that he would not raise taxes, LOL has to make his backtracking look like it isn’t by trying to put the political onus on, respectively, the Council and citizenry by having them approve of the election and then pass the measure. It would give the Council cover as well, as it already can unilaterally raise rates to that level, in taking this route by having voters ratify.
All of these machinations leading to a tax increase are to dodge reality: it was inane capital spending decisions by the city that made the debt bomb what it is. Plowing around $112.5 million into a money-losing arena, a parking garage gift that is unlikely ever to be repaid, and into part-ownership of a high-tech office building that is even less likely ever to recoup expenses and opportunity costs set the stage for the crisis. Without this spending, absence of the principal and interest payments would mean no yearly deficit would exist now or for the foreseeable future.
This LOL, the Council, and stenographers parroting their line cannot ever acknowledge. For to do so becomes an admission of their own bad judgment in their enthusiastic backing of these wasteful projects and of others of much smaller scale. Thus, they must pretend the consequences of these mistakes don’t exist to legitimize the wish to export their costs to taxpayers
Fortunately, even the Council probably has figured out the political price is too high for as torpid as Bossier City voters as a whole may be, so much resentment has developed over the arrogance of the city’s officials that this measure could not pass and the Council would not want to be seen as supporting it and wasting the money on an election it knows it can’t win. Still, the public must keep the reminders coming over the next three years that the best solution to the crisis, in addition to efficiency measures in the works and others (for example, has anybody checked on the expenditures of the City Marshal’s office recently?), is by debt reduction through sales of unneeded assets and privatization, not by needlessly squeezing the citizenry for more resources in a time of national economic difficulty.
Regardless, the deadline for putting an item on the May 1 local elections fast approaches. and with LOL in charge and a critical mass of moronic councilmen available, the citizenry may have to go to battle this time not against stupidity, but deprivation of property and therefore liberty.