OK, the good news is Shreveport got through 15 ballot items in recent conducted election, including one that would have raised hotel and campground taxes by two percent of their value that got a richly-deserved rejection. The bad news is, a more serious and as unnecessary tax increase is coming up for deliberation in two years.
In this spring’s legislative session, HB 1097 by state Rep. Barbara Norton originally would have made permanent by state law a quarter-cent sales and use tax that the city is allowed to charge above and beyond constitutional and statutory limits to the city’s rate. This tax hike initially came in 2003, when the city has concerns that it lacked resources to supplement funding for fire and police protection faced with a greater appreciation of threats from terrorism in the wake of the 9/11/2001 disasters. With no discussion the Shreveport City Council unanimously approved of a resolution supporting this bill.
R.S. 47:338.16 required that after the initial four-year period that it could be renewed by the citizenry for a period of six years, and thereafter for five-year terms. These renewals having occurred successfully and overwhelmingly twice (and in fact the city was so confident of the last election it appeared on the ballot less than a month prior to expiration), it’s now scheduled to expire at the end of 2017.
Norton’s bill would not have required a public vote to make it permanent, perhaps taking a cue from the Caddo Parish Commission’s recent failed attempts to extend levies despite being awash in idle cash. But area legislator state Rep. Thomas Carmody thought better of that and got the House to amend the bill to set up an election determining its fate on Nov. 8, 2016, concurrent with federal elections for the U.S. House, Senate, and presidency. The bill passed the Legislature, the regular session of which just ended, and it was signed into law as Act 668.
The city asked for it because it claims that the uncertainty behind its periodic needs for renewal inhibits planning and budgeting by the city’s public safety departments, especially in its ability to advertise jobs and hire and retain people into them. However, this is a red herring. An argument could have been made initially that if the departments were ramping up to equip themselves better to handle terrorist incidents, those fixed costs have been incurred and that reallocation of resources to keep up with operating expenses should not be that costly, especially since the tax rakes in around $11 million a year in a city with a budget this year of $466 million that has grown from $290 million in 2003 while its population barely has budged since. With the upfront costs out of the way, given its resources there’s little reason the city can’t keep those positions, given the much smaller proportion of the overall city budget to which it contributes now, even if the tax faced the voters every five years and got voted down at some point.
Yet more importantly, there’s no reason to reduce the flexibility granted the populace provided by the occasional need to ask again voters’ permission to confiscate more of what they earn. There’s nothing wrong, as the present law does, in giving those that pay the vast bulk of this tax the opportunity to decide whether government ought to be entitled to take from them, which promotes accountability and responsibility in the use of those extracted funds.
Regrettably, only local legislators state Rep. Alan Seabaugh and state Sen. Barrow Peacock displayed the wisdom to vote against it. Shreveport voters — although discouragingly a majority in Caddo Parish supported the occupancy tax and only Bossier Parish voters moving more decisively against it defeated it — should emulate them in 2016.