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Monday, March 2, 2015

Season Begins

Big decisions ahead for those who vote

The 2015 election season is beginning to move into high gear. And it promises to be a pretty interesting year of Louisiana politics. Electing a new governor, which many residents are looking forward to after eight years of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, is at the top of the list. All statewide offices are up for grabs as are all state legislative seats.

A quick look at the race for governor shows there are four major declared candidates. They are with the amount of money raised so far: U.S. Sen David Vitter ($4.1 million), Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne ($1.6 million), Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle ($1.5 million) and state Rep. John Bel Edwards ($746,000). Vitter, Dardenne and Angelle are Republicans. Edwards is a Democrat.

But before we get there for those elections Oct. 24, other decisions face voters, beginning March 28. Well, at least for a few voters. The only thing on the ballot locally will be the election for Caddo Commissioner in District 7 and proposition elections in fire districts 5 and 7. Running for the commission seat are interim Commissioner Stormy Gage Watts, former Councilman Joe Shyne and community activist Betty Johnson Jackson.

Then we move on to the May 2 election date. It will be the runoff election for the commission seat if one is needed. But there will be two propositions on the ballot that are becoming more controversial as time goes by. One is a vote on a $108 million bond issue to finance the restructuring of the Caddo school system. The other is a renewal of a tax millage for the Biomedical Research Foundation.On the surface, both of these appear plausible.

Not so. Growing opposition has developed over the bond issue being put forth by the Caddo Parish School Board. In the past, it was usually easy to get education measures passed. But hovering over this bond issue is the restructuring plan for the school system called Reinvest in Caddo, spearheaded by Superintendent Dr. Lamar Goree and unanimously approved by the 12-member Caddo Parish School Board. The Reinvest in Caddo plan would close six schools and build three new ones.

Proponents of the bond issue say that this is not a new tax and reallocates one mil of a six-mil property tax currently used to pay off bonds.

They point out that the schools to be closed are small, archaic, inefficient and lack the amenities to provide a quality education. However, opposition is growing among government-watchers, neighborhood associations and the areas where schools will be closed. They contend the plan is moving too fast, lacks citizen input, was put before a board with six new members, and rushed to voters May 2 instead of waiting until the October election.

The renewal of the tax millage for the Biomedical Research Foundation is also coming under close scrutiny. This proposition was put on the ballot by the Caddo Commission by a 9-3 vote with Commissioners Stormy Gage Watts, Ken Epperson and Lyndon Johnson voting no. Voting to put it on the ballot were Commissioners Mike Thibodeaux, Jerald Bowman, Jim Smith, Michael Williams, Matthew Linn, John Escude, Doug Dominick, Lindora Baker and David Cox. The controversy over this issue centers around the fact that the tax millage is not up for renewal until 2018, so it is basically a special election which would guarantee Biomed the tax revenues until 2032. Proponents say Biomed needs the assurance of incoming revenues to plan for the future. Opponents say let’s wait until 2018 and see how things are going at Biomed before giving them a revenue stream until 2032.

Anti-tax advocates are also casting a wary eye at both propositions. They note that Caddo Parish has one of the highest tax rates in the state at a time when its school population has declined as well as it total population. Then there is the rub that only property owners pay these taxes, but everyone gets to vote on them. According to statistics provided by Elliot Stonecipher at a recent neighborhood association meeting, there are 98,284 households in the parish, but only 32.9 percent of these households pay property taxes.

So the fate of these two propositions lies with you the voter and, as always, the passage or defeat of one or both will depend upon voter turnout. One would be well advised to closely study both of these issues before going to the polls May 2.

The big bang election will be Oct. 24. For statewide offices, competitive races seem certain for governor, lieutenent governor and attorney general. State legislative races could provide some interesting match-ups as well. As I noted, some local elections will also take place. Our area parishes will vote on an open BESE Board seat, for sheriff, clerk of court, assessor, coroner and police jury (commission in Caddo). The rumor mill is saying there is grumbling among a lot of voters and that the incumbents in some of these offices will be challenged.

As is usually the case, some races will be expensive and contentious. But isn’t that how we like them in Louisiana?

Lou Gehrig Burnett, an award-winning journalist, has been involved with politics for 44 years and was a congressional aide in Washington, D.C., for 27 years. He also served as executive assistant to former Shreveport Mayor Bo Williams. Burnett is the publisher of the weekly “FaxNet Update” and can be reached at 861-0552 or louburnett@comcast.net.

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