In The News › Blanco may do horse-trading on assessors vote

Jun 3, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Blanco may do horse-trading on assessors vote

Blanco may do horse-trading on assessors vote
Governor unsure of support on House panel
Saturday, June 03, 2006
By Ed Anderson
Capital bureau

BATON ROUGE — Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Friday that she is not sure she has the votes in
the House Ways and Means Committee to pass a proposed change in the state Constitution to
cut from seven to one the number of assessors in Orleans Parish but hinted she may resort to
some behind-the-scenes politics.

Blanco, joined at a news conference by the leaders of several business, governmental watchdog
and civic groups that have endorsed House Bill 642 by Rep. Austin Badon, D -New Orleans, said
she will testify before the committee when it takes up Badon’s bill Monday at 9:30 a.m.

“It is pretty challenging,” Blanco said when asked if she has a majority of the 19-member

“It is getting closer,” Badon said.

Neither said publicly how many members have committed to vote for the bill.

Earlier in the week, there were unconfirmed reports that Blanco and Badon were within one vote
of winning committee passage of the measure.

Badon said Blanco has been working hard to get committee approval for the bill. “She has taken
the bull by the horns and run with this,” Badon said.

Two committee members, Reps. Alex Heaton, D-New Orleans, the brother of 7th District
Assessor Henry Heaton, and Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, the son of Algiers Assessor Tom
Arnold, have been working for weeks to kill the measure.

A similar bill, sponsored and handled by House Speaker Joe Salter, D -Florien, went before the
panel in the February special session and was killed on an 8-6 vote.

Hunting for votes

But Rep. Bryant Hammett, D-Ferriday, who usually toes the Blanco line, did not vote and four
other lawmakers were absent when Salter’s bill came up. Blanco said she is working on getting
all committee members to Monday’s meeting, because some of those absent in February may
vote for the bill.

Some lawmakers on the panel, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Blanco has not called
them, but they expect the bill to come out of the panel by a comfortable margin.

Blanco hinted Friday she may use Hammett’s House Bill 2, the state’s capital construction bill, to
encourage members of the panel to vote for the bill. Lawmakers frequently use the bill to include
pet projects for their districts, items that can be vetoed by the governor.

“We will keep on working at it . . . til it is done,” Blanco said. Asked if the projects in the capital
construction bill, now pending in a Senate committee, may be used for leverage, Blanco
responded, “Who knows who has got what yet (in the bill)?”

Blanco said she would prefer to rely on “the good will of the Legislature” to pass the measure.
Even if the bill is bottled up in committee, Badon and Blanco floor leaders could still try to muster
53 votes from the full House to demand the bill be forced from the committee and placed on the
House floor for debate.

Not going away

If the measure fails to pass, Blanco said, it will come back until lawmakers approve it. She said
she would ask lawmakers to file a similar bill next year or in a special session, if she calls one. “I
would not call a special session just for that. But if there are other compelling reasons to call a
special session, I will include it,” Blanco said.

Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, has already passed an identical Senate Bill 141 through
the Senate on a 35-3 vote. It is awaiting assignment to a House committee for hearing.

The Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region and 20 other groups are expected
to run full-page newspaper ads in the state’s largest markets Sunday or Monday, urging citizens
to call the committee and urge passage of the bill. The ad also singles out Heaton and Arnold as
the two panel members who are “desperate to kill this legislation” and prevent the people of New
Orleans and the state from deciding on one or seven assessors.

As a constitutional measure, it would need two-thirds approval of the Legislature and then must
face voter approval on the Nov. 7 congressional election ballot. The measure must pass
statewide and in New Orleans; if it dies in New Orleans and passes in other parts of the state,
the merger is dead.

“The people of New Orleans are demanding a government that is leaner, smarter and better,”
Blanco told reporters. “No city in the state is in more need of reform than this one.” The present
system, she said, leads to under-taxation of some property, which results in overtaxation of
others because of the inequities among the seven assessors’ taxing procedures.

Blanco said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who did not attend the news conference but sent a
representative, and a host of public officials also back the merger. “These are tough times and
difficult decisions are demanded,” she said.

Duplessis said the merger of the assessors is “critical as we rebuild the city.” Badon called the
existing system “archaic and a prehistoric form of government. . . . We don’t need seven CEOs
(chief executive officers) to run a business.”

Supporters weigh in

Barry Erwin, president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a government watchdog group, said
the present system is “inefficient and wasteful. It is unconscionable to me to let the Legislature
deny them (the people of New Orleans) the opportunity to fix the system.”

Jim Brandt, president of the Public Affairs Research Council, another watchdog agency, said he
has been calling for the merger for the past 25 years, dating to his days as head of the Bureau of
Governmental Research in New Orleans, another city and state issues-oriented organization. “A
one-assessor system made great sense 25 years ago and makes more sense today” in light of
the rebuilding of a Katrina-ravaged New Orleans, he said.

BGR President Janet Howard said studies have shown that as much as 41 percent of the
property in New Orleans is now underassessed, depriving the city of needed property tax
revenue at a time when city officials have applied for a $150 million loan to keep New Orleans
government functioning.

Ruthie Frierson, who chairs Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, called for citizens to flood
committee members and House members with e-mails through or call
them at 1-225-342-6945. “It is essential to move in this reform mode now,” she said. “This is a
key issue but there are a handful of self-serving people” who are trying to derail the efforts.
. . . . . . .

Ed Anderson can be reached at or (225) 342-5810.

Jun 3, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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