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Election Recommendations

By The Times-Picayune

We make the following recommendations for the Nov. 6 ballot.


To continue collecting tolls for an additional 20 years, until Dec. 31, 2033


This issue has generated a months-long conversation about the pros and cons of the tolls, but it really comes down to a simple issue: fairness. The tolls were put in place in 1989 to pay for the bridge and are set to expire at the end of 2012. The bridge debt will be paid off in November, and it is time for the tolls to go. No other bridge over the Mississippi River charges citizens to get across — not in Baton Rouge, not for the Huey P. Long Bridge, which is a few miles upriver from the Crescent City Connection. Those bridges are maintained with state and federal revenues, and the state is prepared to do the same for the Crescent City Connection.

State Police are getting ready to take over patrol duties. Too much toll money has been squandered over the years. The Bureau of Governmental Research reported in 2011 that only 19 cents of every dollar in tolls went to maintaining and policing the bridge. Almost as much — 16 cents — went to collecting and administering the tolls. That makes no sense. In addition, when the tolls were put in place, residents were promised a plethora of improvements that never materialized. Without the tolls, local governments will have to spend more on lighting and for maintenance and landscaping of the West Bank Expressway and connecting arteries. But that is not sufficient reason to extend the tolls. Nor is concern about the continued operation of the Algiers ferry, which would get a dedicated source of funding in this proposition. The state maintains and subsidizes other ferries upriver from New Orleans and has said it is looking for ways to make the ferries more self-sustaining. Voters in Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes will make this decision.


To establish separate races for the two at-large council seats, starting with the 2014 elections, and require candidates to declare which seat they are seeking


Currently, all candidates who qualify to run at-large compete against each other. The two candidates with the highest vote counts win, as long as they receive at least 25 percent of the vote each. If no two candidates reach that threshold, there is a runoff. The result has been that a candidate can win with a fairly small sliver of the electorate, and some candidates have actually worked to suppress the vote by encouraging people to cast only one ballot. The proposed change would mean that the winner of each at-large seat would have to get more than 50 percent of the vote to win, as is currently done in Jefferson Parish. To get that level of support, candidates would have to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters, which should be healthy for the city.


To renew a 5.46-mill property tax and add .61 mills of tax to return the millage to 1983 levels for flood protection and maintenance of Lakeshore Drive and other nonflood assets for 30 years


This would be a simpler decision if the entire millage were being dedicated to flood protection. The nonflood assets, which are overseen by a separate board, should not drain money away from the levee system. Indeed, the board that oversees the nonflood assets is supposed to be finding ways to divest the public of those costs. But the bottom line here is that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East badly needs this source of money. The flood authority had to fight to get this proposition on the ballot and chances are that the terms would not improve if the tax measure were to go back to the Legislature. Major expenses are looming for the flood protection authority, which will soon be on the hook for $14 million per year for its share of the levee work that is vital to the region’s safety.


To levy a property tax of up to 20 mills for 20 years


The state Legislature created the business park in 1979 as a taxing district with the mission of encouraging industrial and commercial development across its 7,000 acres in eastern New Orleans. The park collected a property tax of roughly 20 mills until 2011, when voters refused to renew the tax. That vote no doubt stemmed in part from the business park’s poor track record. As the Bureau of Governmental Research pointed out, administrative costs consume a large piece of the park’s budget and businesses get no real benefit from the tax.


To limit elected board members to three consecutive four-year terms of office


Voters in all but Jefferson and Lafayette parishes will see this proposal on their ballots. Those parishes have already limited school board members to three terms. This newspaper has been generally supportive of term limits as a way to inject new energy into government bodies over time. Twelve years on a board, as this would allow, is actually longer than many term limits in existence. The governor and the mayor of New Orleans, for example, are allowed to serve two consecutive four-year terms.

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