Editor’s Note: A guest post by Michael Lunsford
On March 24th, there are at least 24 single-issue tax ballots across our state. These types of elections are notoriously low-turnout, making it easier to target and turn out a “majority” of people in support of a new tax. We’ve seen these kinds of elections with lower overall turnouts than there are people employed in the district’s local government.
For example, an April 2016 special tax election right here in Lafayette Parish passed a tax with only a 2.5% voter turnout (3,722 people). That same year, between the parish school system and parish government there were some 7,000 workers employed. The previous march, Lafayette passed two other property taxes with a paltry 3.2% voter turnout. Higher turnout elections tend to have public officials on the ballots. In fact, March 24th has 22 such ballots across the state and none of them include taxes.
It seems the tax spenders have figured out a system. After all, consultant aren’t paid to lose. Adding just 100 voters to a 3% turnout race makes much more of a difference than the same 100 voters in a 15% turnout race. The key is choosing elections with the likelihood of the lowest possible turnout. Last year, several members of the Lafayette Consolidated Government council lamented the school system’s controversial new half-cent sales tax being placed on the same election date that LCG had already selected for important property taxes. In addition to these taxes, that race also happened to have a much talked about runoff between Candyce Perret and Susan Theall. Overall, that ballot delivered over 17% turnout, and every parish-wide tax failed. Six months later, LCG put them back on the ballot and passed them with nearly the same number of affirmative votes they had in the April election — the lower overall turnout made the difference.
After hearing this theory, a member of the bond commission confirmed, “Pro tax knows how to play the game and tax us.“ Similarly, our new Treasurer, John Schroder, has said numerous times: these people don’t think like you and me. They’re from a different culture.
As we can see from all the special sessions in Baton Rouge, our state has a growing problem with spending and that’s trickling down to our community governments. It’s gotten so bad that not a week goes by that we don’t hear about a new tax “reform” that always ends with the reformers getting more of our money. If ever we needed legislation to limit the power of government to tax us, it’s now. What can be done? Here are a few ideas: any tax election would require a 10% voter turnout or doesn’t pass. Maybe a better idea is to require any tax ballots be paired with an election where there is a statewide race underway. This would ensure a better voter turnout, while also limiting new taxes to only once every few years. If that’s too drastic, we could at least reduce the current system’s average of five different elections a year to only one.
If you’ve read this far, you might be wondering about the 24 taxes on March 24th. Here they are:
- Duson, LA > 1% sales tax
- Delhi, LA > 1.5% sales tax
- Lutcher, LA > 1% sales tax
- Rayne, LA > 1% sales tax
- West Feliciana > 25.75 mills property taxes
- Kinder, LA > 4 mills property taxes
- Donaldsonville, LA 5 mills property taxes
- Caddo Parish Fire District 3 > 16.7 mills property taxes
- Concordia Parish > 4 mills property taxes
- Jackson Parish Library > 8.94 mills property taxes
- LaSalle Parish School Board > 21 mills property taxes
- Madison Parish > 1.5 mills property taxes
- City of Natchitoches > 10 mills property taxes
- Rapides Parish > 1.06 mills property taxes
- St. Helena Parish > 10 mills property taxes
- Town of Gramercy > half-cent sales tax
- St. Landry Parish School Board > 23.4 mills property taxes
- St. Landry Fire Protection Dist 3 > 10 mills property taxes
- Breaux Bridge Hospital Tax > 8.7 mills property taxes (a 10% tax increase)
- St. Tammany Parish > 2/5 cent sales tax
- Tangipahoa Library > 3 mills property taxes
- Rocky Branch Fire Dept > 8 mills property taxes
- North Webster Industrial District > 5.13 mills
- Winn Parish Library, Health & Roads tax > 16.44 mills!
Similarly, the 22 local governments with officials on the ballot (but no taxes) are here:
- Assumption school board special election
- Avoyelles – Chief of Police & Alderman District 2
- Beauregard – Mayor of DeRidder & City Councilman at Large
- Calcasieu – Mayor of Sulphur & City Council.
- De Soto – Mayor of Mansfield & Aldermen
- Franklin – Winnsboro Mayor, Chief of Police & City Council.
- Grant – Mayor of Colfax & Aldermen.
- Iberville – Justice of the Peace
- Jefferson – Sheriff, Constable, Mayor of Kenner, City Council.
- Jeff Davis – School Board special election
- Lafourche – District Attorney
- Orleans – Judge, State Rep 93rd, Civil Court Judge, 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, etc.
- Ouachita – Mayor of West Monroe, Aldermen
- Pointe Coupée – 18th Judicial District Court
- Richland – Mayor of Rayville, Aldermen
- St. James – Councilman district 6
- St. Martinville – Mayor & City Council
- St. Mary – Mayor of Franklin
- Vermilion – School Board special, Mayor, Chief of Police, Aldermen of Kaplan, Mayor, Chief, Aldermen of Abbeville, etc.
- Vernon – Mayor of Leesville, Councilman, Mayor, Chief, Council of New Llano, Village of Anacoco,
- West Baton Rouge – 18th Judicial District Court
- West Carroll – Mayor and Council of Oak Grove