… With Our Fingers Crossed
by Elliott Stonecipher
By this time next week, those of us in pursuit of a better Shreveport will know who is running for mayor and city council. Official qualifying for those jobs is Wednesday through Friday, and judging by what many have told me, ours are not great expectations.
Especially for natives and other long-time Shreveporters, the seriousness of our city’s challenges is no longer credibly deniable. We are a city in which those informed and honest are soberly aware that Shreveport has run aground.
Yes, yes, I fully understand that our master insiders – the few who have called our tune more or less forever – are doing very, very well. The part of Shreveport these few so thoroughly and profitably control is humming along nicely. That is baked into our community cake, regardless that the taste is bitter.
For the vast majority of us, the fact that those few are able to score a fine living the way they do is no measure of a city’s quality of life. To us, quality of life here is measured as elsewhere, and by that honest standard, we know Shreveport continues to fall behind.
‘Truth be known and admitted, such has been the case since the middle or so 1980s.
Natives and other long-time Shreveporters well remember when, why, and how our city stumbled. Our impressive population growth from 1950 to 1980, up 53%, hit a wall with the triple-whammy of the mid-’80s collapse in oil price, real estate value and banking. Jobs disappeared in huge number, as if right before our eyes, triggering a wave of population out-migration unprecedented in our history.
From its founding in 1836 until 1980-1990, Shreveport had never experienced a decade of population loss.
The well-educated young, so crucial to the future of all great and good cities, led the exodus, and we never recovered that loss, either in number or importance to us. When the six-decade smoke of 1950 to 2010 cleared, our average yearly population growth was less than one percent – 0.9%, to be exact. Lafayette averaged 4.3% per year over those 60 years, Tyler, Texas averaged 2.5%, Baton Rouge 1.4%, and Bossier City 4.9%. The national rate over the period was 1.8%, exactly double that of Shreveport.
Even given that population growth does not necessarily mean economic growth, our population stagnation, and the demography of our out-migrants, was then, and remains remarkable in our South region.
In the 1960s and 1970s, our very strong national political team headed by U. S. Senator Russell Long gave Shreveport more than our share of transportation infrastructure, manufacturing jobs, and the attached prosperity.
Things are different now. Unlike those blessings born of public servants acting in the public interest, a sizable percentage of our elected and other leaders today strive and act in direct contradiction to the public interest.
Anyone who doubts this fact need look no further than the battle to complete the Hwy. 3132 Extension. These “leaders” support – some openly, some believing they are invisible – the building of a high-dollar residential enclave in the path of the final leg of the highway to the Port of Caddo-Bossier.
They force that soon-to-be flood of mostly 18-wheeler traffic onto surface roads, blatantly and blithely endangering the public safety. Those drivers must then complete a traffic maze to get to and from the Port, and the job-creators who employ them must pay the increased cost. Such is our leadership’s concept of “economic development.” (SEE “master insiders,” above.)
Given our highest property taxes in Louisiana, we know we cannot fairly expect to do much better than holding our current population. Our neighbor state a quick drive to the west has no state income tax, and our neighbor parishes to the east and south have dramatically lower property taxes. Bossier City homeowners pay one-half what their Shreveport counterparts do, and those in DeSoto one-third.
To boot, our water and sewer rates are now set to rise every year for many years, negating any advantage our lower rates may have previously afforded us.
To mitigate our stunningly high public school property taxes, we must quickly close, shudder and remove 12 to 15 of our near-70 schools. That remedy for our infamous over-capacity of schools would alone permit a sizable cut in our property tax.
An equally obvious money-saving move to city-parish government is also long overdue.
We seem to have long ago accepted that the leadership required to turn Shreveport around is no longer here, but I disagree. I believe the talent is here. The care and concern is here. The willingness to serve the people rather than oneself is here. I know that because I know these people.
The finest Shreveporters I have ever known looked for and found ways to serve this city – serve us – because it was who they were or are. Today, most of us never consider public service. No, the leadership needed is not missing. Rather, those leaders in waiting have for many years chosen to answer “no” when called to public service. I know only too well their reasons, but the cost to our city is no less pronounced.
Candidate qualifying for elective public office almost always offers hope. Those who understand what we face are hoping for a surprisingly good roster of candidates.
We know to keep first things first, however: “good” means knowledgeable, engaged Shreveporters who will swear an honest oath to serve the public rather than themselves.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Finish 3132 Coalition