by Elliott Stonecipher
Yesterday, Caddo Parish voters went to the polls to approve or reject a Caddo Parish Commission 1.75-mill property tax to borrow money for capital projects. It would have renewed the Commission’s program of borrowing money – a $23,000,000 pot of it – for such work, even when the Commission had, as of December 31, 2013, a tad bit under $50,000,000 in stashed cash in three spending funds which are 100% discretionary.
Some of us consider those funds to be political slush buckets which should be used before money is borrowed, especially given that Shreveporters – some 80% of the parish population – pay the highest property taxes in the state. (Some say Zachary, Louisiana, is #1, but given its relatively small population of just under 16,000, I have not verified that.)
In trying to measure how many of us feel the Commission is a taxing and spending machine, we voted yesterday … for the second time. In October, we turned it down in a bit better than a tie – by 59 votes – but the Commission simply would not take “no” for an answer, so they plunked another $145,000 of our money down to take another shot. With Commissioner John Escude in the lead, I am told by other Commissioners, the group overstepped … well, “stepped in it,” might put it better … and the proposal went down this time by a margin of 77% “no” to 23% “yes.”
The result is all the more important for Caddo because the Commission had our Chamber of Commerce in its corner. Among the twelve Commissioners, only Stephanie Lynch came out publicly against the renewal. The Executive Committee of the Caddo Parish Republicans publicly opposed the proposition, and its Chairman, Louis Avallone, penned a guest editorial to that effect in the Shreveport Times. Local attorney Royal Alexander went on television with personal ads against the proposition, and at the very end, The Shreveport Times added an editorial which rebuked the Commission for putting the proposition up a second time in six months. Local Attorney John Settle also placed ads and wrote stories that educated voters on these issues.
As The Times noted, the Commission has a trust problem, an understatement, but oh so true. Those of us who have personal experience with how the Commission tossed away any voter trust know too much about the core group of Commissioners who are, as one veteran put it to me Friday, “completely off the reservation.” Exactly, as in a war party off the reservation, with the war being waged against random, dutiful citizens who stumble into their reach. In far too many instances, about which I wrote in March (SEE here and here) these Commissioners attack with such tactics as threats to cut off Commission funds, demeaning public rebukes at Commission meetings, and attacks in emails to Commissioners and others. These Commissioners have for years waged a campaign of intimidation, as if competing with the hands-down master of such abuse of the public, Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover.
What I Am Convinced We Need, Soon
Most of the rest of our metro area is Bossier Parish, one of only seven Louisiana parishes with population growth since 1980 which is at or above the 39.5% national rate. Specifically, Bossier’s population growth since then is 53.4% compared to Caddo’s 1.0%. To the current point, Shreveporters pay 33% higher property taxes than their Bossier City neighbors.
Shreveport and Caddo property taxes are too high to jump-start our stagnation, which is drifting to something much worse. The best solution may well be to revisit city/parish government, which we have not looked at for years. This structural change – especially given that Shreveporters are 8-of-10 Caddoans – is more timely than ever, and holds the promise of cutting duplicative government spending 20% or more, certainly enough to compete again within the state in property and/or sales tax levels.
The Chamber of Commerce, Committee of 100, Community Foundation, civic clubs and others should be urged to take this vote as an opening to quickly form the necessary city/parish government study commission to flesh-out pros and cons. A vote of the people would be required for the change, but these groups could effectively referee the competing political interests as needed to get us to that point. This year’s Shreveport mayor’s race should feature this discussion, too. (I know … but hope springs eternal.)
For those who don’t know Caddo Parish well, suffice it to say that no one I have asked remembers a property tax renewal going down, much less twice, much less in political flames. It is likely the case that such failures are so rare because the parish’s demography means 2-of-3 Caddo households do not pay parish property taxes, but can vote them on those who do. But, as I pointed out in the last of the series of articles I wrote on this tax election, the Commission’s infamous arrogance as a body risked angering a broad swath of citizens, property tax payers or not. Such is precisely what happened, and what should have happened.
Caddo Parish citizens, by that 77% to 23% margin, sent a strong message to the Caddo Commission yesterday, one which Shreveport city government officials and Caddo School Board members might note, too. People here, decades of history notwithstanding, do not have unlimited tolerance for the kind of abuses of public trust some on the Commission have too long exhibited. Given that non-offending Commissioners never acted publicly to police their own, yesterday’s vote resulted.
The Commission will now have to use some hoarded cash to reduce their spending, which they would never have done on their own.
I personally thank the 7,106 Caddo voters who received the Commission’s memo of disrespect of us, then – muttering “Crud, ‘gonna have to do it myself” – tossed the memo in the trash … on the way to the voting booth.
Democracy is, at times, a truly awesome thing.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest, with no compensation of any kind solicited or accepted. Appropriate credit to Mr. Stonecipher in the sharing – unedited only, please – of his work is requested and appreciated.