New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell won, even though she may not have had anything to do with it.
Last weekend, dozens of local measures peppered ballots across the state for voter assessment. Perhaps the most prominent was a proposal to increase property taxes on New Orleanians designed to pass through to fund operations of the New Orleans Council on Aging.
Although the City Council unanimously put the measure on the ballot and no other area elected officials opposed it, Cantrell did so. She rightly pointed out that the city ought not to lock in a new tax the proceeds of which likely would have distributed by a nongovernment organization, but that the city should have more direct control over these disbursements which wouldn’t necessarily need a new tax to fund that commitment.
New Orleans, with a median household income well below the state’s, seemed like the perfect jurisdiction to pass such a measure. The state’s generous homestead exemption shields many voters from paying all but 10.47 mills of property taxes dedicated for public safety, plus many others remain incognizant of property taxation by renting their housing. Throw in that the demographic group more likely to turn out, the elderly, also would have its members disproportionately benefit from passage, and you had a prime recipe for spreading the wealth.
Yet the electorate crushed the item, with it losing almost three-to-one. A convenient explanation credits Cantrell’s efforts, with her publicly speaking out repeatedly against the measure as her allied interest group backed her up. However, the data don’t endorse this view.
Out of the city’s 351 precincts, the affirmative carried only 24, with Cantrell having received an average of 67.3 percent of the vote in her 2017 mayoral runoff victory. But in the 324 where it lost (it tied in three precincts), she tallied only 61 percent of the vote (these figures appear higher than her actual total of 60 percent because of the distribution of early votes, which polled the affirmative seven points higher). It’s difficult to say her influence carried the day when her past supporters appeared less likely to reject the measure as she recommended.
A couple of examples bear that out and perhaps point towards other factors. In Ward 14, reviewing the general election data Cantrell consistently ran behind former judge Michael Bagneris in the higher-numbered precincts, which have among the lowest concentrations of poverty (using somewhat dated data from 2010) in the city, yet the proposition lost overwhelmingly in these. It did much better in higher-numbered precincts in Ward 17, which has neighborhoods around or higher than the city poverty average, while Cantrell did better in the associated precincts. It also attracted disproportionately more votes in Ward 9, especially in the lower-numbered precincts of the poverty-stricken eponymous neighborhood, most of which Cantrell won.
Thus, it seems wealth and poverty had more to do with the results; not surprisingly, areas with more poverty tended to vote for the redistributionist proposition – the same places where Cantrell picked up more votes. That noted, possibly Cantrell’s opposition depressed support for it in the areas where she excelled, while in other geographies that didn’t matter.
So, at best Cantrell may have had a minor influence on the unusual result. Given its margin of defeat, it’s questionable whether that made a significant difference. Still, a win’s a win for her, and the large negative response stands in contrast to East Baton Rouge Parish’s passage of a similar item that took even a greater bite out of taxpayers, despite its COA having a checkered history of poor money management, if not committing outright fraud in the runup to the election.