Search This Blog


Opponent of HB 604 & HB 669 fails in adequate explanation

Stick a pig and it squeals, thus the reply concerning yesterday’s posting on both of the bills discussed, HB 604 which would eliminate the January local-only election date, and HB 669 which would put language on ballot propositions that would estimate the tax consequences to the “typical” voter and list the amount of money that “reasonably” could be collected by the tax in a year, by the general counsel to the Police Jury Association of Louisiana, Dan Garrett.

While the two bills listed do not appear explicitly as “priority bad” in the PJAL’s tracking recommendations, from his comments it’s clear his employer is against them. Let’s see how he tries to defend against the essential truths of the matters, that these bills increase voter education about bond referenda (HB 669), save money, and reduce the disproportionate influence of constituencies that favor passage (HB 604). Starting with the latter:

[A] review of actual election results shows no correleation [sic, misspelling] between turnout or election date and the passage or failure of a tax measure. As a professor I would have expected you to have actually done the research before making an assertion to the contrary.

This “review” is news to me – and everybody in my profession who studies these matters. First, there is no such study extant in the literature that shows whether a tax referendum is likely to pass or fail depending upon whether it is affiliated or unaffiliated with other ballot items. If there is, it doesn't show up in any journal or book I've ever read, or seen indexed. If Garrett reads this, I would like for him to forward to me such a study, or at least the citation for it so I can look it up.

But there is a ton of literature that points to the link between turnout and the presence of other elective offices on a ballot – that’s something you pick up in a basic state and local government or political behavior class. Simply, dates that have elective offices on the ballot drive up turnout in referenda contests compared to elections on dates that do not. (One study based on New Orleans turnout, which specifically looks at racial differences in referenda turnout, which Garrett may check is the state’s own James Vanderleeuw and Richard Engstrom in their 1987 Journal of Politics piece, “Race, Referendums, and Roll-off”).

But note that his response dodges the entire point, which is not whether measures pass or fail, but whether local governments deliberately pick dates on which they can schedule noncompulsory (that is, voluntary voting), nonaffiliated referenda in the hopes of having them pass, on the theory that supporters of such measures are more likely to vote in such a low-stimulus contest than those against. While no study ever has looked at turnout of specific constituencies that would be favored by an affirmative vote (such as certain kinds of public servants receiving salary increases), others have made the link that the lower the turnout, the more disproportionately supporters of tax measures likely comprise the voting electorate on that item.

A number of studies on voting behavior in referenda actions show that there is often stronger support for bond issues among those with higher income and occupational status. Likewise, a number of other studies show these are the characteristics of people most likely to vote in a noncompulsory voting system (like ours), regardless of whether the items are affiliated with other elective office contests on the same ballot. Thus, we may assume that a date chosen because it promises minimal turnout attempts to take advantage of the fact that as turnout declines, supporters of tax measures disproportionately comprise a larger and larger segment of the participating electorate.

Garrett and his employers know this, but they don’t want to admit it. Either that or, as the general counsel to the interest group representing parish governments, I would have expected Garrett to have actually done the research before asserting a lack of causal relationship clearly contradicted by it.

(Of course, another point he fails to address is that money is saved on behalf of local taxpayers by not having separate referenda-only elections. There another salutary effect here as well, the reduction of “voter fatigue” – the propensity of people to reduce their participation in electoral politics as the number of times they are called to the polls increases – which is precisely what local governments count on to weed out people who would vote against their tax measures. To assist him here, he could check Lisa Hill’s 2003 Australian Journal of Social Issues article. I am nothing if not helpful in educating others.)

Turning to HB 669:

[E]ven Rep. Powell could not define what constituted a "typical taxpayer". Taxpayers vary in income range, homeowners or not, business or personal, etc. If the author could not explain his own legislation, then how would local governemnts [sic, letter transposition] around the state be expected to comply?

This too avoids the issue about whether the concept of greater information for voters is beneficial. An amendment simply could have been offered stating something like, “the measure shall have as part of its description, if a tax on unmovable property, the cost per year of a taxpayer with the current homestead exemption in force for a property valued at $100,000, and for one without,” and so on. It’s a straw man argument, and a very weak one at that, to say a problem in execution (one easily remedied as above) means the principle behind it is unattainable or unworthy.

In fact, the literature shows the precise problem identified in HB 604, low turnout, could in part be mitigated by passage of HB 669. David Lassen’s American Journal of Political Science 2005 article observes that propensity to vote increases significantly as does relevant information about the referendum item being voted upon. And maybe this is why Garrett’s employer is against the bill, to reiterate my last posting: the people become more powerful and elected less powerful the more information they have about decisions made in their governance.

In closing, Garrett made me an offer:

In the future, I would more than happy to discuss any issue you wish, giving you the benefit of the other side of the issue.

OK, if you can discuss these issues, please: (1) with already so many (four, even five) other dates throughout the year on which to hold referenda elections, knowing that the January date needlessly costs extra money, and that there is no justifiable new government spending that could not be put off or otherwise taken care of for a couple of months, why does your employer support keeping this date, and (2) why does your employer not support giving voters additional information about referenda when, as demonstrated above, it can be easily and precisely done?

Shall we hold our breath waiting on answers addressing these exact questions?

No comments: