Today's economy makes voters inherently wary of supporting increased taxes. Increased health care, housing and insurance costs are just a few of the economic factors that make voters hesitant to approve any tax measures that will take more funds out of their wallets. But next Tuesday, Nov. 7, Lafayette Parish voters are being asked to consider two new tax initiatives: an additional 1-cent sales tax for road construction and drainage projects, and a property tax to build a new courthouse in Lafayette.
Both proposed taxes were born out of necessity; there is no denying that Lafayette's traffic problems are at an all-time high. Lafayette Consolidated Government is facing a funds shortage for future road projects, and Lafayette's courthouse ' built in the 1960s ' is antiquated by modern law standards and presents a number of safety issues for its employees and anyone who uses it.
The real question, however, for both taxes, is whether the plan for each has been thoroughly vetted and makes sense for Lafayette Parish and its residents. In examining each case, The Independent Weekly has come to two different conclusions: We support the sales tax for road construction, but we oppose the property tax for a new courthouse.
Let's start with the road sales tax.
Lafayette's south side and north side would benefit immensely from much-needed road projects, for different reasons. The south side is a traffic nightmare due to years of poor planning and booming development, and the recent building boom in Youngsville and Broussard has helped turn daily commutes and shopping errands on the south side into aggravating gridlock. The north side, on the other hand, has lagged in economic development and is poised to become a launching pad for new commercial and residential projects. But those goals can't be achieved without road repairs and road expansion on the north side; despite a recent sales tax windfall, some of which can be used for road improvements, we will fall short of the kind of funding needed to adequately address future road infrastructure needs.
Pat Logan, LCG's associate public works director, said if the Nov. 7 road sales tax fails, the $8.2 million LCG has on hand for 2007 projects will only be able to fund work on East Pont Des Mouton Road. If the road sales tax is approved, more than 60 road and drainage projects are slotted to be bid in coming years. I-49 and I-10 frontage roads could finally become a reality, and $12 million would be set aside in 2007 for Louisiana Avenue from Maryview Farm Road to Gloria Switch Road.
It's vital that Lafayette take control of its own destiny on this issue, because the state's shaky post-hurricane finances mean that matching state funds for road projects simply can't be counted on for local infrastructure improvements. By having a new sales tax fund road improvements, Lafayette Parish gets the dual benefit of people who travel from outside the parish to shop (the group that constitutes more than a third of the parish's retail sales). They will be paying to use our streets while also adding to our tax base.
Most important, the road sales tax is a dedicated tax. Part of the problems in past propositions was vague language that allowed LCG to use the money for "capital improvements" rather than restricting it to road and drainage projects. The Nov. 7 proposed sales tax decrees that 80 percent of the collected revenues must be used for construction, with the remaining 20 percent allotted for maintenance. This gives voters some necessary assurance that their tax dollars will be going to their intended use and not squandered on unrelated projects.
We can't find that kind of financial responsibility in the proposed property tax to fund a new courthouse.
One of the main reasons we find the proposed courthouse tax so troublesome is its poor presentation to the public. The significant financial costs of the project ' an estimated $52 million for a new courthouse, and $13.5 million for renovation of the existing courthouse ' demand scrutiny, and voters deserve a clear explanation of the cost breakdowns and other options. But supporters of the courthouse tax (including City-Parish President Joey Durel, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Clerk of Court Louis Perret and numerous local judges and attorneys) ' have only been visibly stumping for the proposal in the recent weeks leading up to next Tuesday's vote.
There has been only one feasibility study ' at the hefty cost of $150,000 ' regarding the need for a new courthouse. That study concluded that renovations were not a feasible option, due to limited available space in the courthouse and potential asbestos problems related to any remodeling efforts. Both conclusions might ultimately prove true, but it's too much to ask voters to accept those findings on good faith alone. It's LCG's duty to get multiple opinions and possible options for such a massive, costly project, and that hasn't been done in convincing fashion. We also question whether a property tax measure is the most appropriate funding source for a new courthouse and whether constructing a new courthouse is truly the parish's most pressing issue.
At press time, supporters of the courthouse tax had called a press conference regarding the tax for Tuesday, Oct. 31, but one week of blitzkrieg stumping is simply not enough time to ask voters to approve a $70 million ballot measure. And there also seems to be a puzzling disconnect between courthouse tax supporters and Durel. While Durel has long supported building a new courthouse, it's hard to believe that one or both parties didn't realize the potential political disaster it would be to put not just one, but two significant tax measures on the same ballot. The courthouse tax could have easily been held until 2007, giving its proponents plenty of time to clearly lay out the need and costs associated with a new courthouse ' and when it wouldn't have to compete with the road sales tax. Forcing the issue now defies common sense.
Finally, in the 7th District Congressional race, The Independent Weekly has a policy of not endorsing individual candidates, so we make no recommendation in that race.
The Nov. 7 constitutional amendments
The madness must stop. A little more than a month ago, the Louisiana Legislature put a whopping 13 constitutional amendments on the Sept. 30 ballot. It included a number of important hurricane-related measures regarding coastal funding and eminent domain, but there were also a few less-than-vital proposed amendments, like asking voters to constitutionalize such issues as election protocol should the Lieutenant Governor leave office.
Now the Legislature is at it again, putting eight proposed constitutional amendments on next Tuesday's Nov. 7 ballot. It's in keeping with Louisiana's unnecessary and unfortunate habit of continually amending its constitution, often with unnecessary amendments. Since our Constitution was first adopted in 1921, Louisiana has added more than 650 amendments ' more than any other state. Far too often, the effect of such constitutional amendments could be achieved through legislation, rather than consistently asking voters to wade through proposed amendments written in tortured legalese. It's tempting to reject these latest eight proposed amendments on the Nov. 7 ballot on principle alone, but there are a few particularly worthy amendments this time around, so we'll address them individually. We also recommend that voters visit the Public Affairs Research Council Web site (www.par.org) for a more detailed analysis of each amendment.
1) Amendment No. 1 would benefit certain current and former disabled military members by freezing their property tax assessments. It also would apply to spouses of military personnel killed in action. We vote FOR Amendment 1.
2) By voting for this amendment ' which would increase the amount of state oil and gas severance tax revenue collected by the originating parishes from $750,000 to $850,000 ' voters are at least assured that a future proposed constitutional amendment on the issue won't crop up. It caps the oil and gas tax at $850,000 and automatically adjusts it for inflation in the future, so we vote FOR Amendment 2.
3) Too often, proposed amendments take a good idea and ruin the intent by using imprecise language that leaves too may loopholes. That's the case here, as this amendment attempts to exempt rural nonprofit hospitals from property taxes on leased medical equipment. It's a noble idea, but PAR notes that only three out of 34 nonprofit hospitals would qualify for the exemption under this amendment. We vote AGAINST Amendment 3.
4) New Orleanians should be turning out in force to support this amendment, which would kill the property taxes on motor vehicles in New Orleans. The Crescent City is the only Louisiana city to tax vehicle ownership, and especially given the financial hardships facing so many New Orleanians post-Katrina, it's time for the tax to be rescinded. We vote FOR Amendment 4.
5) This is another example of an issue that could be handled with legislation instead of burdening the constitution. That said, it's still worth supporting, as it prevents property taxes on art being sold on consignment at art galleries or businesses. Sales taxes are already collected on art sales, and there's no need to add another tax on top of it. We vote FOR Amendment 5.
6) Amendment No. 6 would allow for new family and juvenile judgeships. The constitution already allows legislators to create general judgeships, and this would extend that discretion into the creation of family and juvenile judgeships in existing district courts. Allowing trained and capable judges in those fields to focus on those areas would be beneficial, so we vote FOR Amendment 6.
7) No proposed amendment on the ballot is as important as this one. Amendment 7 would consolidate New Orleans' seven assessors into one, and this move is long overdue. The current seven-assessor system has been rife with political patronage and waste for years, and New Orleans is the only parish in the state to use more than one assessor. As New Orleans and Louisiana continue the post-hurricane rebuilding effort and attempt to show the rest of the country that the days of cronyism and good ol' boy politics are over, passing this amendment would send a powerful message. We vote FOR Amendment 7.
8) This amendment could set a dangerous precedent. The Central community in Baton Rouge ' part of East Baton Rouge Parish ' isn't happy with operating as part of the larger school system and wants to secede and form its own school system. Opponents of the measure, including the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, argue that allowing Central to form its own school system will divert funds from other schools, as well as waste educational funds on a whole new layer of bureaucracy in the standalone school. We vote AGAINST Amendment 8.
Is Louisiana's reliance on constitutional amendments often unnecessary and wasteful? Yes. But until the system is reformed, your vote on these amendments counts more than ever, and we urge you to head to the polls on Nov. 7 and let your voice be heard.
Cuban baseball isn't working; Syrians flee to Turkey; Maven arrives at Mars and more national and international news for Monday, September 22, 2014.
Monday's Blogs from the Bog!
Despite sweeping changes enacted by Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration, the health insurance program for state workers and public school employees will have to use $88 million from its reserve fund to cover its costs this year.
The LPSB races are sure to get heated between now and Nov. 4, and with only 9 available seats, this year's field of 20 candidates will surely be wanting to set themselves apart from the crowd early; they'll get their chance next week, starting Tuesday with the kick-off of a three-day series of candidate forums.
Lawmakers say they've received complaints that waits have spiked, with people being forced to wait in line for more than an hour — and sometimes three hours — to handle routine tasks.
The campaign announced that Rep. Stuart Bishop of District 43 and Nancy Landry, District 31, have thrown their support behind the Naval Academy graduate and entrepreneur in his bid to unseat current Hunter Beasley in District 8.
A Lafayette man with an alleged taste for child porn was busted Thursday evening during a cyber crime sting launched by the Attorney General’s Office.
U.S. Rep. Vance McAllister says his chief of staff is on temporary leave after being booked with drunken driving.
It was a rare moment in Congress this week as Republicans briefly put aside partisanship in support of President Barack Obama's request to train and arm Syrian rebels, and while a number of Democrats opposed the measure, Louisiana's Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu found herself on the same side of the issue as her Republican challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy.
City-Parish President Joey Durel is asking the council to sign off on a resolution approving a pair of deals that would lead to razing the seedy Lesspay Motel at Four Corners to build a new police substation as well as transforming nearly a block Downtown where the old federal courthouse building now molders into a mixed-use development.
In 2013, the IRS — already the least popular governmental agency in the country — became the target of intense investigations after it was revealed that they had specifically and improperly scrutinized applications for tax-exempt status from organizations associated with the nascent Tea Party movement.
Improving the running game was "a point of emphasis" during the offseason and the results have manifested themselves in the form of substantially greater production.
Louisiana's health department said Wednesday that its evaluation of the state's Medicaid privatization was on target, despite criticism from the legislative auditor that it lacked key data and contained inconsistencies.
The feds converge on your office, seizing records on several employees as part of a pay-for-plea investigation. WWYD? If you’re Mike Harson, you give yourself a $12k raise.
It’s football season and after back-to-back winless weekends for the Saints and the Cajuns many citizens are finding it difficult to be civil much less happy. Well, chew on this.
Considering his repeated stays in the local penal system, David Narcisse Jr. should have known that having a semiautomatic shotgun, even one given to him by a friend, wasn’t the brightest of ideas.
A state district judge on Tuesday threw out a last-minute retirement hike lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent, ending a political firestorm over a pension boost passed without public scrutiny on the last day of the legislative session.
The House has passed a bill to increase oversight of veterans' hospitals under construction, following a report that some medical centers take three years longer to complete than estimated and cost an extra $366 million per project.
An obvious follow-up question for any Republican politician who accuses Democrats of being science deniers is one about science, to which Jindal bobbed and weaved like a welterweight champ.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council is expected to decide tonight (Tuesday) whether to go along with a proposal City-Parish President Joey Durel made in February’s State of the Parish Address and consolidate taxes for mosquito control and the parish health units into a broader tax program that would also cover animal control.
U.S. District Judge Richard Haik has dismissed Greg Davis’ lawsuit against the LPSB, yet in his ruling, the federal judge doesn’t bite his tongue in pointing out the "threat" being posed by certain board members.
Of all the political offices being contested throughout Lafayette Parish, the race for Broussard’s top police post has literally become one of the most heated.
A state district judge is deciding whether to issue an injunction against the enforcement of a last-minute retirement hike that lawmakers gave to the state police superintendent.
A new website is up for Louisiana's state government employees and retirees to choose their health insurance plans for next year, a choice they must make by October.
That fact that New Orleans led both games in the final 10 seconds of regulation, and lost each by a field goal or less, is of little solace.