You have probably heard it said that the average person uses only 10 percent of his or her potential. Some studies say that most people function with only about 2 percent of his or her mental potential. The remainder just sits there in reserve, being saved for some later time. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar explained that this would be exactly like your parents leaving you a trust fund with $100,000 in it, but all you ever took out to spend was $2,000 and “the other $98,000 simply sat in the account, unused throughout your life.”
Well, this is somewhat like our Caddo Parish government, which has more than $120 million of cash (or cash-equivalents) just sitting there, being saved for some later time. This amount is almost 200 percent of their total budget for 2017, at a time when most local governments across the country seldom have reserves of more than eight to 10 percent of their annual budget.
So if you have almost 200 percent of the amount of money you will spend in any given year, just sitting there, why in the world would you need to borrow money from us and burden us with more debt, when we already are paying the highest property taxes in Louisiana?
Well, the academic answer, from local elected officials, is that any surplus money should be kept around for emergencies, such as a flood, tornado or man-made disaster, like a plant explosion or oil pipeline burst.
But would any such disasters require $120 million in expenditures? Of course not. Consider Bossier Parish, as an example, though. They were the hardest hit from the flooding in March, 2016 and suffered $3.4 million in total losses.
However, after FEMA reimburses them (FEMA reimburses 75 percent of costs), the net cost to Bossier Parish will only be around $900,000. That’s a lot of money, of course, but obviously a far cry from the $120 million or so that Caddo Parish has just sitting there, set aside, for such emergencies.
This underscores the fact that too many of us don’t understand what local governments take in, or the extent of waste, fraud and abuse present in the system. And frankly, there are too many elected officials counting on just that.
Caddo Parish is not unique, though, in that regard. Many other local governments across the country are facing the same difficulties. Declining tax revenues, depressed property values, shrinking populations, higher costs of government services, etc.
However, not all local governments take the same approach. Some don’t see raising (or renewing) our taxes or cutting services as the only two options to balance their budgets. Some have chosen to lower taxes, instead. For example, in Burlington County, N. J., the county government was hemorrhaging dollars. So, they reduced their spending and cut taxes by 13 percent because their goal was to “reinvent government.” The county chairman said, “We wanted to find a better way to get it done, and by combining different departments and offices, we would find ways to save dollars and not duplicate tasks. We had to be more efficient.”
Similarly, in Greene County, Ohio, commissioners were able to reduce the amount of property tax collected by $1.9 million because the county determined it had more than what was needed for county services. The county administrator said, “We didn’t need all those tax dollars, and we need to find a way to put them back in the community.” As one commissioner said to his constituents, “This is your money. We don’t need it, so you put it to use.”
Now, when was the last time any of us heard that? Never.
So, why is the only discussion around here about raising or renewing taxes, especially when there’s $120 million just sitting there?
Here’s the real answer: Our elected officials know that if they spend what they have “saved,” or don’t renew what taxes they already have, the taxpayers won’t likely vote for any new taxes, at least not anytime soon.
So, it’s the “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” analogy. And that “bird in the hand” is our tax dollars, and they aren’t letting go, and there’s certainly not any talk around here about “reinventing government” or putting tax dollars “back into the community.”
None of the tax propositions on the April 29 ballot expire this year. Only one of them expires as early as 2019. The rest don’t expire until 2021 or 2022. What’s the rush to hold an election to renew a whole bunch of taxes on an obscure Saturday in April, where the voter turnout will be almost nil, that will cost the parish almost $150,000 to conduct? There is no rush. Not at all.
Instead, let’s give our Caddo Commission the opportunity to do for us just what the local governments in New Jersey and Ohio have done for their constituents and reinvent government for us first.
Will Rogers once said that “we should be thankful that we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.” If that’s true, then maybe having some folks in our government using just 2 percent of their mental potential is a good thing. There’s no telling how much higher our taxes would be if they were using anything more.
Louis R. Avallone is a Shreveport businessman and attorney. He is also a former aide to U.S. Representative Jim McCrery and editor of The Caddo Republican. His columns have appeared regularly in The Forum since 2007. Follow him on Facebook, on Twitter @louisravallone or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.