On the Ballot

Commentary: Vote no on the proposed tax to benefit seniors March 30

By Gambit Commentary

Source: Gambit

March 22, 2019

We don’t want to disrespect our elders, but a proposal to levy a new 2-mill property tax in New Orleans for elderly services is not the show of respect that our seniors deserve. The proposition is the only item on the ballot this Saturday (March 30). If approved, it would impose the new tax for only five years and generate $6.6 million in new revenue that, proponents say, would help address funding shortfalls for vital services for the city’s large elderly population.

Unfortunately, voters have seen precious little campaigning by supporters of the new millage — and even less information about how the City Council would spend the new money. For these and other reasons, we regrettably recommend that our readers in New Orleans vote noon the proposition March 30. Frankly, our seniors deserve better than a half-baked idea that offers only short-term hope for improved services that so many seniors will need for the long haul.

The local Council on Aging has promoted the idea of a tax dedicated to senior services for some time, and last October the City Council unanimously voted to put the issue on the March 30 ballot. That vote came over the objection of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who, like many others, supports more senior funding but argued against failing to weigh this need against other important city needs. Interestingly, since then we’ve seen no council members  campaigning for the senior services millage — but the mayor came out against it forcefully in a recent letter to New Orleans voters.

Cantrell wrote that the proposed new tax “does not go far enough to provide healthy outcomes for our seniors. This tax would go to a third party that is unaccountable to the public. And it’s a new tax on all of our homeowners, including seniors. We need a more holistic approach with services that meet all of their needs.”

We agree — as does the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR), a local government watchdog and think tank. BGR’s report (www.bgr.org) analyzed the proposal and concluded, “The millage’s goal of improving the quality of life for New Orleans’ elderly is important and laudable, particularly in light of the city’s relatively high population of elderly residents living alone, with disabilities or with limited financial means. However, the millage proposition does not assure citizens of the effective use of the millage revenue. It provides a broad grant of spending authority to the City Council, which has not put forward any companion ordinance to clarify specific recipients, uses, and accountability and performance measures. This is particularly problematic at a time when the city must confront, and voters must weigh, a host of critical needs competing for tax revenue.”

BGR suggests that city leaders prioritize New Orleans’ revenue needs, including those of the elderly, and develop a strategy to address all those needs. We agree, though it hurts to reach that conclusion at the short-term expense of our seniors. We hope the mayor and the council will get to work on the BGR’s recommendations immediately. In the meantime, we recommend our readers vote no on March 30. Early voting currently is underway and continues through March 23.

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