Don’t Let 20 Percent Of The People Call All The Shots This Saturday

Voter turnout may be low in Saturday’s statewide general election, but a proposed constitutional amendment could become a catalyst for getting more people to the polls than expected. The amendment that will be on all ballots prohibits local and state governments from levying new taxes and fees on immovable property.

New Orleans already has a tax of $325 on each real estate transaction, but the amendment would prohibit any increases there if it is approved. Both the state and national Realtor associations have spent nearly $300,000 to promote a “yes” vote for the amendment.

Some 40 states allow real estate transfer taxes, but they are banned in Arizona, Missouri and Montana. The taxes are levied as a percentage of a property’s value.

Two statewide organizations are opposing the amendment, and that may have created some confusion. The Council for a Better Louisiana and the Louisiana Budget Project think the amendment is unnecessary and will hamper local governments in their efforts to raise new revenues. And that is exactly why supporters of the ban are worried that some voters might think a “yes” vote would kill a proposed real estate transfer tax when it would do just the opposite.

The American Press has recommended a “yes” vote on the amendment, saying a real estate transfer tax would discourage home sales and have a negative effect on the local economy.

Another feature of the election that should boost voter turnout in Beauregard, Calcasieu and Vernon parishes involves a runoff for the state Senate District 30 seat. Sen. John R. Smith, R-Leesville, is the incumbent who led in all three parishes Oct. 22. He is being challenged by former state Sen. James David Cain, R-Dry Creek, who held that seat for 16 years.

Smith was less than 5 percentage points shy of winning in the primary. He polled 45.7 percent of the vote in the three parishes, compared to 29.7 percent for Cain.

Gov. Bobby Jindal supports Smith’s candidacy and has spent some of his campaign money on television spots critical of Cain’s teacher and state employee retirements totaling $65,997. Cain has also come under fire for his sponsorship of Act 689 of 2004 that limited funeral home and burial insurance to only the face value of those policies.

Cain has tried to link Smith to actions taken by the Legislature involving an ill-fated pay increase for lawmakers, a budget decision that used health funds to close a money gap and a law defining secondhand dealers and how they can conduct business. However, he hasn’t been able to get much traction on those issues because in two instances they were almost unanimous decisions.

This is Cain’s second attempt to get back into the Legislature after being term-limited in the Senate. He lost a close race in 2007 to state Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek.

Three other Senate races are on Saturday’s ballot, and 21 House contests will also be decided.

Voters in the New Orleans and Baton Rouge areas have seen some spirited campaigning in the runoffs to fill three seats on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and that should also increase voter turnout. The 7th District seat in this corner of the state was decided Oct. 22 when Holly Boffy of Youngsville defeated incumbent Dale Bayard of Sulphur.

Gov. Jindal has made it clear he wants to accelerate education reform during his second term, and he is backing a candidate in one of the Baton Rouge runoffs. Candidates he supported in the primary did well.

Organizations representing local school boards, superintendents and teachers have banded together to form the Coalition for Louisiana Public Education that is aimed at fighting the governor’s initiatives. They aren’t happy about attacks on teacher tenure, oppose a new teacher evaluation system and want to slow the charter school movement.

Even if the coalition wins a BESE seat or two, it will still have a difficult time derailing education reform that has already been accomplished over the past four years. Jindal has business interests, good government groups and parents who want a better education for their children on his side.

The voter turnout in October was 36 percent. The secretary of state’s office believes Saturday’s turnout could be somewhere between 18 and 20 percent. Maybe so, but the issues we have talked about here and some heated local races in parts of the state could increase those numbers. Do your part, and it can happen.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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