At year’s end, it’s useful to hold out Shreveport over the last 13 months as an object lesson to the lengths that government will go to keep their troughs full — and why citizens are to blame to allow it to keep happening.
In 2013, Shreveporters ended up having to cough up, or beggar from surely other more pressing uses, a buck a person more because the Mayor Cedric Glover Administration was caught napping and he and the City Council want to increase chances of no revenue haircuts by the citizenry. In October, 2012 it was determined that the city was about to lose its tax collection authority for a quarter cent of sales tax, scheduled to expire after six years at the end of 2012. Because notification is required four weeks prior to the beginning of early voting in the case of a primary election, this made the City Council having to pass a resolution to approve of this occur within that period, meaning it could not be offered up without special state approval until the next scheduled election, termed the “general,” Dec. 8, 2012 where the deadline had to be 46 days out.
Ordinarily, that might not have necessitated any extra expense. The state and local government entity split expenses on local matters that piggyback on any state or federal matters. But as it turned out, no state or federal contest could have gone to the Dec. 8 election given the only electoral contests had just two opponents. By failing to make the deadline, the city had to pay at least a quarter of the $160,000 tab when it could have been less.
The official explanation from officials ranged from the comic to the too-familiar nauseating plea that more tax dollars would have prevented the spending of even more of them. Glover, no doubt utilizing all the mnemonic help that 21st Century technology can provide, said he had thought wrongly that it would come up at the end of 2013. City Attorney Terri Scott said her office was too swamped to keep up with such things, and the city immediately sought to hire contractors to help at an estimated cost of $2,500.
That’s a lot to pay for one hour’s work, because that’s all it would have taken to figure this out. I have no immediate access to the clerk of court’s file of certificates calling for these elections, nor to any internal city documents relating to them, but I do have a computer and Internet connection, and working backwards from the present at the Secretary of State’s list of local propositions I discovered in mere moments that for Apr. 1, 2006, this proposition was on the ballot. A minute later, I found out it had passed with 88 percent approval from a staggering 7,760 voters.
Now how hard could it be for Scott to hand someone a list, or for her to do it herself, of every existing city property and sales tax, and tell them to start working backwards to determine when they were last passed? And as the SOS list only goes back to 2002, which pinpoints the specific election, then beginning in 2001 just start checking every election result that goes back to 1982 and you can’t miss. It’s that simple.
This presupposes, in the case of the Glover Administration quite accurately, that nobody has been keeping a running tab on these things. So here’s what you do: after you get all of this information, get a dry eraser board, mark columns for the tax, its effective period, and the last year of that period when an election could be held for renewal. Then you don’t ever have to look up anything again. And you need to pay somebody $2,500 to do that?
But this extra charge pales in comparison to another mistake the city made in election timing. To make matters even worse, cued up for Apr. 8, 2013 was another special election for renewals of five property tax propositions that also were to expire at the end of 2012, but since those are collected at the end of the year, if passed they will be in place to continue to reap that money, unlike with the sales tax where collection would have had to have stopped on Jan. 1, 2013. Why were these not also on the Dec. 8 ballot?
Glover said he had never heard of Shreveport trying to renew these in the year of their expiration. But Caddo Assessor Charles Henington said a number of other entities in the parish do precisely that. There’s no cost savings to be gained by waiting; even if a special election had been called for then, only part of the costs would be defrayed. Why have two elections for propositions all expiring at the end of the year?
The answer is plying the age-old local government tactic of scheduling these elections at the last possible regularly scheduled election date (that doesn’t have a bunch of contests on the ballot; lower turnout elections increase the chances of money propositions passing). Waiting to the last minute allows the city to claim rejection of these taxes would bring about the Apocalypse to city finances, trying to scare people into approving them.
Yet Shreveporters signaled they didn’t really care about the wasted money or gamesmanship by its 85 percent approval on Dec. 8, 2012 of the sales tax and then their subsequent approval in the 70-74 percent range of the property taxes on Apr. 6, 2013; interestingly, the massive 4.3 percent turnout in 2012 exceeded the 4.1 percent turnout in 2013.
So that’s on the voters. Inattentive behavior and trying to grease the skids for government to collect the people’s resources will continue so long as not only having these large majorities for vacuuming this money, but with barely one in 25 registered voters even showing any concern. Let’s hope at least elections for those put into office making these timing and tactical decisions draw enough interest so that things like this are repeated less often.