WANT TO REPAIR OR BUILD A STREET OR HIGHWAY?

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FIRST FIX THE SELF-INTEREST AND ABUSE OF PROCESS
 
by Elliott Stonecipher

As Shreveport’s street maintenance debate fires up again at the City Council and with Mayor Cedric Glover, it’s a good time to revisit an important Council action last October.  Concrete is little more than the roux for this concoction.

Following by mere months his $175,000,000 bond issue for water/sewer needs, and, yes, street maintenance, Mayor Glover pounded the table last fall for yet another bond issue – this one for $94,000,000 – for, yes, street maintenance. Many believed something other than concrete was in the mix, and I argued at the time that the “something” most likely had to do with the relationship between Glover and his hand-picked city financial advisor.   A community-wide effort to prevent the $94,000,000 scheme succeeded in a 5-2 vote against it by a newly responsible City Council.  Notably, Sam Jenkins and Rose McCulloch were Glover’s two votes.

To underscore suspicion about the real purpose of Glover’s plan, the City Council later voted 5-2 in favor of its own investigation into precisely how the financial advisor – who actually advises Glover, not the city – functions and is paid. Sam Jenkins and Rose McCulloch were Glover’s two votes against the investigation.

At the heart of Glover’s proposal was his loud insistence that the $94,000,000 bond issue was absolutely necessary to catch-up with a supposed street repair backlog, as if every city this size doesn’t always have such a backlog.  Now, the mayor’s carnival barking is starkly contradicted:  in fact, $33,561,000 is available in 2012 for street repairs and maintenance, and the total available over the next three years is $45,561,000 … without any additional debt.

(In yesterday’s Times are a related op-ed by Councilman Michael Corbin, read here, and an editorial from the Times as well, here.)

A foundational detail in all of this is the little-mentioned Glover and City Council action last August to raise our electric bills.  That tax increase came by way of a two-and-a-half-times goosing of our franchise tax – 2% to 5% – slapped on our bills for 25 years.  Glover and the then-still-snoozing City Council bombed us with that new tax – to be used for street repairs and maintenance – only four months after the $175,000,000 bond issue.  Then, in a two-months-later blink of the eye, he and his financial advisor hustled back at us to hawk the bond-out of the franchise tax increase in the new $94,000,000 issue.  All of this occurred as state and federal government were (and are) cutting back, back, back, while simultaneously demonstrating that any tax increases were (and are) a no, no, no.

If the spend-and-tax-and-tax-and-spend aficiandos aren’t frustrated enough by evidence that plenty of money was already sloshing around, Councilman Corbin has the temerity to suggest that we might want to spend the money where the streets are most highly traveled, worn and damaged … mon Dieu!  Then, further confounding the anti-common sense, and anti-thrift thinking that rules government hereabouts, Corbin opines that our actual street repair and maintenance needs might not neatly and proportionately match the boundaries of our seven city council districts.  His revolutionary, by local standards, idea is to prioritize such needs on a citywide basis.  Such would assume, of course, that we’re all in this, uh, pothole, together.

Bearing witness to the current city hall process, sources report that Ms. McCulloch’s Council District “A” proportionate take will be spent exclusively on the care of a street bearing her father’s name.  Even so, a full one-year allotment for her district will not be enough to complete the job.

(POLITICAL NOTE:  Opposition to Corbin’s wholly logical approach comes from – you guessed it – Glover, by way of his locked-in council votes, Sam Jenkins and Rose McCulloch.  While I get that Glover has promised Sam Jenkins his support in the next mayor’s race, I don’t begin to get why Sam Jenkins thinks it would do anything but hurt him.  The teachable moment came when Lydia Jackson’s re-election chance was severely damaged by ties to Glover, but Sam Jenkins skipped that class.  That he has in the past personally introduced – recommended? – the mayor’s financial advisor to other local government entities is also important.)

What to do about our street repair and maintenance program is easy in the real world:  while the franchise tax increase should never have happened, it did.  Given that it did, a pay-as-you-go street repair plan based on objective criteria for citywide project prioritization is the only viable option.

All of this is a repeated lesson in our lifelong course of study here:  whether good and honest taxpayers want to fix potholes, pave a street, finish I-49, or finally build the Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Port, the mix of necessary materials is a smidgen of (very expensive) planning, a portion of concrete, a measure of labor, then truckload after truckload after truckload of self-interest and abuse of governmental process.

Elliott Stonecipher

For any reader who may not know, this and all other such analysis and commentary I forward to you has been done strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited, offered or accepted for this work.

Evets Management Services, Inc.
6658 Youree Drive
Suite 180, #367
Shreveport, LA 71105
Phone: 318-424-1695

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