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Is Bossier City Maturing Politically?

Chances are extraordinarily high that Bossier City will return every single legislative and executive elected official in this April’s election. Such continuity is exceptionally rare in a city its size, a development both reassuring and troubling.

This contrasts the situation in 2001 when candidates came out of the woodworks to contest all but one council district largely as fallout over the imperious way in which the city decided on the building of the CenturyTel Arena. Even the 2003 special election for Council District 1 got three candidates and a spirited contest.

One could argue the merits causing this stability as good things happening in the city. For now, revenues exceed expenditures enough so that emergencies can be covered (such as rapidly increasing pension costs for public safety personnel) and even city services expanded beyond the steadily increasing population. The riverboat rainy day fund sits full and continues to throw off cash (but not for long), the Louisiana Boardwalk commercial development supposedly brings a new day to the city, and the biggest problem is one of growth, increased traffic congestion, which also is being grappled with by the city.

But darker skies loom, bringing a host of problems that will require leadership and vision. At the current level of services and with existing obligations, soon the city will begin to draw down from the riverboat fund – in essence, spend at a deficit level. Some Council members dreamily think that the Boardwalk will provide enough in sales and property tax revenues to keep the budget balanced with current revenues at current service levels, but that is unlikely (remember how five years ago it was supposed to be the arena that was supposed to spark all sorts of development in south Bossier?).

Increasing the ominous nature of this development, were Texas to move to legalize any more gambling, Bossier City could be in serious financial trouble. As dependent as Shreveport has let itself become on gambling (oops, “gaming;” “gambling” is supposed to be suppressed by the state), Bossier City is much more so. The city still largely remains a bedroom community to Shreveport, meaning its ratio of residents to commercial enterprises is higher thereby making the sales and property taxes they could generate per capita lower. The three casinos and Louisiana Downs disproportionately balance things out, so a significant drop in their business or closures would really hurt the city.

Of course, moves to build the Arena and Boardwalk represent attempts to diversify the economy but we have to face that fact that they do/will not attract a significant number of outsiders who would not otherwise spend dollars in the city (a small number that would decline significantly with a reduction in gaming business). The problem is these enterprises are based on a model of consumption rather than production (regardless whether that entails physical or creative goods); it’s the latter which really adds value to a local economy.

In part, the kind of economic development chosen by Bossier City heretofore stems from the kind of political elites picked to run the city. In reviewing the current crop about to be reelected (which largely mirrors past groups in kind), most either come from longtime politically-active families of some prominence or are Air Force transplanted leaders who made politics their next career. In some ways it creates a small, insular clique where political decisions largely get shaped by “insiders,” risking suboptimal decision-making.

This mentality to governance was exemplified in the debate about the Arena. Sold as something which ended up costing twice as much which would bring more benefits than costs, in reality it is like all other publicly-financed entertainment venues (as I have argued convincingly in a past Fax-Net Update column, along with the academicians who study this subject) in that when adding foregone revenues and externalities, it will never achieve that goal. Simply, it got built because of ego, of a desire to make the city seem more “grown up” and its political elites more powerful.

But Bossier City is all grown up, and let us hope that the ease of their reelection does not breed complacency and acquiescence to insular attitudes of the past. Its citizenry can help it mature politically by an increasing proportion of them casting a more critical eye than ever on their city government and its activities, making greater efforts to make their preferences known. If inattentiveness by citizens and ineptitude by leaders occurs, the former will wake up to make the 2009 election cycle make the 2001 version seem tame by comparison.

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