THORNY ISSUES AHEAD
Governmental entities facing many problems
It’s not easy being an elected official for a governmental entity these days at the national, state and local levels. To be sure, things will not change for the better for elected officials in 2015. It might be wise, if you care how your tax dollars are spent, to stay informed and pay attention this year to what these entities are doing.
At the state level, the Legislature goes into session April 13 and will end June 11. From the looks of it, it will not be a fun year for legislators, many of whom are up for reelection this year if they are not termlimited. The state is facing a budget deficit of about $1.6 billion, which means cuts are coming for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal cannot seek a third term, so it will be interesting to see if legislators toe his philosophical line on the budget and other issues or embark on an independent course of action. It is predicted that public colleges could be facing more cuts of up to $400 million and healthcare services could take a $300 million hit. That would be on top of the $700 million in cuts that public colleges have already endured under the Jindal administration and his legislative allies. All state departments may have to slash spending by 5 to 15 percent, which would certainly impact services to the state’s citizens.
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is that state mineral royalties and taxes are down because of a dramatic drop in the price of oil. The good news is that personal income taxes and corporate taxes are producing more revenues that anticipated. But the bottom line is that there will be budget cuts. The unknown is the severity of those cuts. As a result, Louisiana’s tax structure may come under scrutiny, if not this year, surely next year when a new governor and Legislature are sworn into office.
At the parish level, it could be a trying year for Caddo Commissioners, who are up for re-election this fall. Only Commissioner David Cox is term-limited. (Caddo Commissioners can serve three consecutive terms). Commission members are already coming under scrutiny by local government watchdogs with regard to their salaries, retirement benefits and travel expense allowances.
In addition, there is the deal with Elio Motors, which has seen delay after delay. Many Caddo residents believe that the Commission members were taken for a ride by Elio and his threewheeled vehicle which is supposed to be manufactured at the old General Motors plant.
Caddo School Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree and the school board, which has six new members, are on a hot seat with many residents because of its plan to close six schools – three of them in the inner city – and build three new ones. Closing a neighborhood school is never a popular endeavor. The three new schools would be in southeast Shreveport, Blanchard and the inner city.
To implement the plan, which Goree proposed and which was unanimously approved by the school board, a $108 million bond issue will go before voters May 2. If approved, it would reallocate a portion of a six-million tax currently used to pay off previous bond issues.
But critics are already out in force, criticizing the size of the Caddo School System’s budget, the taxes it collects, and its large administrative staff. And there is opposition to closing some of the inner city schools, which they say are historic structures. The school board is also being chided for putting the bond issue on the ballot May 2 instead of Oct. 24 when there should be a large turnout of voters because of the elections on the ballot at that time. It will not be an easy sell to the voters, and it will likely be an important benchmark in Goree’s reign as superintendent.
Shreveport has a new mayor in Ollie Tyler and a new chief administrative officer in Brian Crawford and the city council has four new members at a time when many of its residents feel their hometown is at a crossroads. Problems abound. There is the issue of population stagnation because of white flight and a financial crisis because of a diminishing tax base. The water and sewer system is deteriorating and the federal government is mandating action. The cost to deal with the problem is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Street repairs are desperately needed and citizens are demanding action. Crime is an ongoing concern, and the boasting that crime is down is falling on deaf ears. Those are just some of the challenges facing the new mayor and her administration and the city council.
Last week I listed some City Hall salaries, but they have been revised and updated. Here are the yearly salaries, which include base salary and benefits: Tyler – $105,662.88; Crawford – $164,516.39; director of public relations and communications Africa Price – $99.421.16; confidential executive assistant Pam Raines – $87,957.15; Fair Share coordinator Karen Barnes – $59,915.28; director of film, media and entertainment Arlena Acree – $103,824; assistant to the Mayor Steven Jackson – $81,112.28; administrative assistant Yolanda McCoy – $46,837.20.