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Will Blanco's finally campaigning for consolidation work?

It’s about time that Gov. Kathleen Blanco started supporting common sense measures that save the state money rather than costing it, she is signaling with apparent efforts to help consolidate Orleans Parish assessors from seven into one.

Until now she’s done practically nothing to streamline the inefficient, if not duplicative, separate judicial and assessment systems in New Orleans, preferring in the past, for example, to throw her weight behind measures such as those that unnecessarily went way beyond the law or Constitution regarding electoral participation in the city elections the previous two months. Aided and abetted by Secretary of State Al Ater and with Legislative approval, they got the state to waste $6 million extra on these contests and only attracted about 20,000 extra voters above and beyond what normally would have occurred (about 8,000 in the primary, 12,000 in the general election) – that’s $300 per voter as opposed to the normal $10 a ballot.

But presently she indicates she actually may fight for HB 642 which would put a constitutional amendment before voters (because the seven assessor-structure is in the Constitution) to make Orleans like every other parish in the state in having just one assessor – just like in the parishes of East Baton Rouge and Jefferson with higher current populations than Orleans. This is in stark contrast to the special session in 2006 where she did nothing to back an identical bill – and it died in committee 8-6.

However, in that action Feb. 10, several members of the House Ways and Means Committee (all but one are Democrats) were absent. The eight voting in favor of deferring the bill were all the six members from New Orleans, another black legislator, and Bossier City-area legislator Billy Montgomery. Further, the two other black members of the committee would be expected to lean against the bill, since the issue is seen by legislative blacks (although not admitted in public) as one of taking away patronage powers.

This means Blanco must peel away at least one member of this putative majority – likely Montgomery – and make sure all the other white members of the committee show up and vote to pass the bill through. Holding some capital outlay request items hostage isn’t a bad idea to do that – a stroll through the capital outlay bill HB 2 shows, for example, several items, generally non-critical, directly benefiting Montgomery’s district that could get a line item veto without too much trouble for her but a lot for him especially if he plans on running next year for the state Senate.

There’s absolutely no justification for the separate set-up in Orleans regarding assessment. With a system like every other parish’s, money will be saved and probably more accurate assessments made, among other advantages. Best of all, it will give the voters the chance to make this decision – both statewide and in Orleans Parish (because five or fewer parishes are directly affected by the amendment, it must get both a majority both statewide and among Orleans voters). Why should any elected official fear putting this kind of decision about government structure into the hands of the people?

Hopefully, Blanco’s new-found enthusiasm for smaller government, even if (and likely) temporary, will spill over into successful efforts for committee approval and subsequent passage of HB 642 (and its legislative enacting companion HB 656).

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