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Who does Legislature serve, people or government?

State Rep. Mike Powell keeps tweaking the get-along, go-along good old boy (and girl) crowd in Louisiana to put the taxpayers first. So far, these politicians have gotten the better of him, but he keeps trying, to our benefit.

Last year, Powell’s HB 415 would have produced savings for taxpayers in more ways than one. This bill would have removed the January option for local (bond and tax) and state (to fill legislative vacancies) elections, leaving now only March/April, July, October, and November (and February if you live in Orleans Parish) to get a vote in. It would have saved the state at least $500,000 a year (and millions across local governments in the aggregate) and eliminated a low-turnout election whose figures double, triple, and multiply even higher when in conjunction with regular elections with candidates on the ballot.

But Gov. Kathleen Blanco vetoed it (after the state Senate almost did it in), even as it passed the House 87-8 and (finally, barely) the Senate 21-10, nonsensically arguing it reduced democracy. The main motivator, among several, for her action appeared to be the desires of the courthouse crowd in local government who like to utilize this date because, other than a special election, no regular elections for offices are held on this date which makes it easier to float tax propositions aimed at benefiting certain constituencies. With shockingly low turnouts likely therefore, interests’ voting power becomes magnified making more likely passage of the measure that disproportionately benefits them and the desire to spend that enraptures too many local elected officials across the state.

Powell didn’t give up and produced this session’s HB 604, practically the same bill. This one got a stamp of approval of 101-0 in the House, but the Senate awaits. Will Blanco have the temerity to veto this one as well if the Senate provides a strong majority for it? Or will the Senate abandon its embrace of common sense that marked a majority of its members in its second 2005 vote?

But the House itself already has threatened to derail another Powell measure designed to assist the taxpayer. HB 669 would require an election proposition which authorizes the levy or increase of a tax to state the estimated tax implications on the typical taxpayer and the estimated amount reasonably expected to be collected from the proposal for an entire year.

That’s pretty simple and basic. For property tax propositions, newspapers will do something like this all of the time in stories about them. When the misbegotten Stelly Plan went under debate, the media also reported figures in terms of typical spending on items subject to the sales and use tax, with estimates for people in certain income brackets would pay given its changes. And budgets always estimate the amount of money a tax would raise. None of this is complicated, no does the bill ask for that.

Yet opponents were able to get the “typical taxpayer” language stripped and others such as Rep. William Daniel IV said it would “prejudice” voters against tax propositions. So is Daniel admitting he wants ballot language to sway voters in favor of taxes? And since when is more information harmful to voters making decisions? Does Daniel support keeping the electorate in the dark as much as possible?

Rep. Gil Pinac also raised a non-issue, that the ballot language could become too long for voters to read in their three-minute stay in the voting booth. However, Pinac may have forgotten that the language appears in numerous fora prior to the election – in fact, copies of the ballots are posted around the polling places for voters to read at their leisure prior to encountering the real thing.

Powell is correct when he notes the real reason for so much opposition (a 51-all tie two votes short of passage) came in part because some legislators are concerned about providing voters too much information which may reduce the chances of state and local government squeezing out more money from the citizenry. It’s the typical attitude held by too many in Baton Rouge – the people don’t know how best to govern themselves, elected officials do, so keep the great unwashed in the dark. Let’s hope Powell and others can resurrect this bill because knowledge is power – and there are many in office who don’t want some of that power to be transferred from themselves to those they supposedly work for.


Anonymous said...

Actually HB 415 of the 2005 RS would have had zero impact on State dollars, as the State does not pay any of the costs of local elections.

Also, a review of actual election results shows no correleation 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.

As for HB 669, while the concept seems simple, even 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 around the state be expected to comply?

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.

Dan Garrett
Police Jury Association of LA

Anonymous said...

Shut-up Dan. Powell is the ONLY legislator that has the balls to do what's right.

Anonymous said...

If a voter waits to find out about the fiscal impact of a proposed tax increase/renewal until he opens the curtain to the voting booth, then that person should be ashamed of himself and should not complain about the sorry state of our government. Placing fiscal impact information without information about what local government plans to do with the money would be foolish. As someone who has performed sales tax analysis in the past, it is very difficult to give taxpayer-specific information when dealing with sales tax because of the many different variations in families in this state. One can provide an average, but that does nothing to help the taxpayer determine what it would cost him and his family. Throwing out total tax collection numbers is not a good idea because without a listing of what that money will be used for, what good is it? I don't like paying taxes, but I also don't just vote every proposed tax down because it will cost me and other taxpayers money. I look at what the local government has proposed to do with the money and then decide based on the merits of the proposed use. Anyone who does otherwise is the cause of the problem, not lack of ballot language. These are the same people who don't take the time to learn about the issues that their elected representatives decided on each day so they can make informed opinions at the polls. And instead of reporting on important issues, such as the failure of voter responsibility, our radio and Internet shock jocks report about lack of ballot fiscal information which will not help anyone make an informed decision. And Prof. Sandow may think that the the ballot language is needed. But the important issue is, do our voters take the time to examine a tax or any issue prior to voting, or did they not. No piece of legislation will ever be able to instill the sense of responsibility that our voters should have.

Jeff Sadow said...

Garrett is mostly correct on point one, although the state does step in and help with local elections (see Orleans last month and this month), even as he cannot deny local governments bear the local election costs which otherwise could be combined with state elections.

As for his other points, see the posting immediately above (May 8, 2006).