On the Ballot

St. Tammany voters reject new sales tax for criminal prosecutions

By Sara Pagones

Source: The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

April 30, 2022

North shore District Attorney Warren Montgomery failed to get a new revenue stream to support his office Saturday, as St. Tammany Parish voters shot down a proposed 10-year, 1/7th cent sales tax.

Complete but unofficial returns showed 54% voted against the tax, with 8,641 rejecting the proposal and only 7,397 voting in its favor. Turnout was 8.6%.

The 22nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office includes St. Tammany and Washington parishes, but this new tax was only to be levied and used in St. Tammany. It would have brought in a projected $7.9 million annually.

Saturday’s referendum was a fifth attempt to persuade St. Tammany voters to approve a tax that would fund some of expenses of the District Attorney’s office.

Montgomery, who is in his second term, put the measure on the ballot after St. Tammany voters rejected a different sales tax late last year that would have covered some of his office’s expenses, as well as some costs for the St. Tammany Parish Jail and court system.

That defeat last November marked parish government’s fourth attempt to find a way to cover those costs, which it is required to do by law.

The original pair of quarter-cent sales taxes, one for the courthouse and the other for the jail, expired in 2018. In the years since, the parish has drained reserve funds to pay for the 22nd Judicial District Court, the DA and other mandated costs.

Montgomery’s new proposition was narrowly tailored, with the $7.9 million dedicated only to his office and criminal prosecutions. Of the money, $7 million would cover staffing costs. In another effort to convince tax-averse voters to say yes, Montgomery also stressed that his office — not parish government — would be the steward of the money.

Facing a budget that was slashed by more than half by the St. Tammany Parish Council — from the $6.4 that Montgomery had requested to $3.1 million that his office will actually receive — Montgomery told voters the end result would be fewer prosecutions and more criminals left on the streets. The loss of revenue, he said, was a “defunding” of the DA’s office.

Noting that it is actually the parish government’s responsibility to cover much of the budget, Montgomery also warned that he would be forced to sue the parish government to adequately fund his office if the tax failed.

No organized opposition materialized during the campaign, and the tax had the support of the Bureau of Governmental Research, which said its main concern — a lack of public oversight for the tax — had been addressed by Montgomery’s promise to publish quarterly revenue and expenditure statements and provide parish government with an annual budget to be reviewed at a public meeting.

This story was altered on May 2, 2022 to correct the amount of the sales tax.

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