SADOW: Shreveport Fiscal Follies Threaten Bonding Ability

While Tropical Storm Barry may have whimpered its way through Shreveport, a political storm has brewed there that threatens to take down the city’s bonding capacity.

Last month, news leaked that the city delayed production of its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report required by the state annually on Jun. 30. Discrepancies in the city-run pension plan for public safety employees as well as questions over whether the city was making its payroll tax payments appear to have prompted the request.

The Shreveport payroll problems predated the Democrat Mayor Adrian Perkins Administration, but it has not confirmed that the problems didn’t continue into 2019. Regardless, this piqued the interest of the three Republican members of the city council – Grayson Boucher, James Flurry, and John Nickelson – plus Democrat LeVette Fuller into having the body vote the city into launching an investigation of the matter.

The Perkins Administration, amid cries from the other council members Democrats Jerry Bowman, Willie Bradford, and James Green that the Council wished to micromanage executive branch affairs, asked to delay the effort until after submission of the formal (and tardy) audit to the state. Bradford backed a motion to do that, but it failed.

In one sense, Perkins has dug his own grave on transparency issues. Particularly with a botched effort to insure the city that left it overpaying and under-insured because of apparent political considerations, but also on smaller matters such as trying to get taxpayers to foot the bill for his inauguration ceremonies, Perkins has invited heightened Council scrutiny.

The latest blow-up occurred over a request by Nickleson for the Council to review the city’s change of lead contractor overseeing legally-mandated water and sewerage upgrades. Apparently taking umbrage at a public records request made by Nickelson, Perkins berated his action in a note sent to all on the Council.

Yet there’s more going on here than clarification of Administration dealings. Councilors also have begun striving to build an image in voters’ minds as they seek to renew bonding capacity, which will evaporate if voters don’t pass the projected bond proposals (likely several items with discrete purposes will be sent forward).

In its past meeting, the Council served notice it would entertain calling for a bond election during its Aug. 13 meeting. That would place on the Shreveport Nov. 16 ballot the renewal of an existing 15 mill property tax expiring this year dedicating $220 million to three broad areas of capital expenditures. Specific projects have been determined by a citizens committee drawn up by Perkins.

With all the turmoil swirling about inadequate city financial controls and wasteful spending, that doesn’t exactly constitute an endorsement for giving the city $220 million more to play with. Republican councilors in particular want to get out ahead of the issue by trying to signal voters that they can trust the city to spend tax dollars wisely, even if it takes Council intervention to do so.

Fuller has her own incentive to join them to create this majority. Right off the bat, she had tempered her reputation as a far left Democrat with heaping doses of backing government transparency that set her at odds with Perkins and tempering government intrusiveness as she potentially looked ahead in her political career. Those traits became particularly urgent for expression after her recent arrest for drunk and distracted driving; if she has any chance to move beyond her current office, she must double down on building that kind of image to make voters forget about her legal troubles that convey a lack of good judgment on her part.

Shreveport voters will cool to the tax items proposed if they don’t have confidence in Shreveport’s fiscal management. Perkins’ high-handedness already has done damage, and the latest revelations will make matters worse. From a political perspective, Council micromanagement might be necessary to make voters thinks they can risk again putting their tax dollars in the city’s hands.

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