Saturday, Caddo Parish officials are wanting voters to approve both parish-wide measures on the ballot. The public needs to resist the blandishment.
One is a renewal for 20 years of a 1.75 mill property tax used for capital items. Even though the parish sits on reserves that exceed greatly the projected over $23 million this would draw, in theory it’s defensible to have this revenue stream available. Many of the projected uses listed by the parish are worthy, although some represent non-critical enhancements that financial prudence dictates should not be financed by debt when you have that choice.
But two disturbing aspects of the requested renewal should disturb voters. One is the failure to ask for a rate that represented any rollback from the expiring rate. Louisiana’s Constitution dictates that whenever property reassessments that occur every four years during the years of presidential elections that, unless a governing authority acts otherwise, property tax receipts remain flat overall by having millage rates decrease if necessary.
While the tax has come down from 4.40 mills, it has stayed at 1.75 for the past few years. Given its superior financial position, the parish should have asked for a lower level in order to allow the people to keep more of their money. That it didn’t weakens the citizenry’s confidence in that it can act as a wise steward of the resources from this levy.
Perhaps worse is that Caddo recently signed an agreement to fork over millions that will be recycled into providing financing for an experimental automotive startup at the former General Motors location. While parish officials insist it is a beneficial, low-risk deal, they forget that it simply is not government’s job to use taxpayer resources on things not related to basic government purposes. Again, this poor judgment reminds voters that a diet may be necessary to get a majority of commissioners’ minds right on this basic concept.
Thus, a vote against the renewal is in order. The parish has plenty in reserve, and perhaps defeat would prompt it to come back next year with a more modest and appropriate proposal.
Yet it seems getting minds right is a need that extends beyond a basic understanding of the purpose of government. The other ballot item asks to extend terms limits from three to five consecutive. This appeared as a fallback position to discussions earlier in the year first to eliminate them entirely but this could not gain majority commissioner support, then to offer elimination on the ballot in competition with the extension, then to just place on it the extension.
While keeping limits avoids the electoral consequences of doing away with them, lengthening them to the point where they almost are meaningless resurrects the case against no limits. The argument for them are that after too long representatives become too focused on institutional rather than public needs and become increasingly able to use resources of their offices to give themselves electoral advantages over challengers. Thus, refreshment at regular intervals reminds them of the object of their service and that this should not be seen as a career that disconnects them from the community.
One argument used against them asserts that forced turnover loses experience and knowledge needlessly. But this operates on the conceit that the official is significantly more capable to govern than any other willing member of the community, so that replacing him forcibly without cause (i.e. voter rejection, which presumably signifies inferior performance) represents a reduction of quality detrimental to the community. This is sheer nonsense; a number of willing folks in any district are more than capable of matching or exceeding anyone on the Commission presently. And just how much more helpful experience and knowledge can one get after 12 years, especially when if someone can’t get up to speed on the position in the first year this shows he didn’t have the ability necessary to serve in the first place?
The other is that it deprives people of “choice” with an artificial disqualification of long-time incumbents from the ballot. But how really limiting is that when you have a community full of willing and capable individuals out there? Given the benefits of refreshment, they more than compensate for the extremely small attenuation of choice. So there’s no need to extend limits.
And, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the limits are not lifetime, so a commissioner who really feels compelled to serve can sit out a term and then try again.
Recognize that the idea of extension simply is arrogance in action for commissioners who want to stay in this part-time job longer (and collect on their full-time salary). It shows they covet continuing to exercise power and privilege and put this desire first, whereas if they had genuine concern about their community they would defer to those others out there perhaps even more capable than themselves, but certainly no less, and can find many ways to serve the community outside of office. Voters should help them see the error of their thinking by rejecting this attempt that more than it would produce improved governance merely would inflate egos.