Election Day Funalysis

District 69

So, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything on the ole’ WordPress Blog. With today being the run-off for one of the most exciting gubernatorial elections in Louisiana in 24 years, I figured I had to sit down and knock something out to get into the spirit of the day. While there has been a ton of ink spilled about the gubernatorial election as well as a lesser amount on the other statewide races, there hasn’t been all that much written about some of the smaller races, so I thought I would go ahead and do a little non-standard analysis on the race for State Representative in the district in which I reside, House District 69.

B&T Air Guitar

Excellent!

The runoff is between two conservative Republican candidates: Ryan Heck and Paula Davis. Heck is the current Councilperson for District 11 on the East Baton Rouge Parish Metropolitan Council, a district that includes a portion of State Representative District 69. Davis has previously held positions in state government, including as a former Deputy Commissioner of Insurance. So there’s the bona fides, but I don’t really care about that, I want to dig a bit.

money_bags

Let’s talk about money. While it isn’t a 100% truism that spending more money wins the race, it certainly doesn’t hurt. More money spent means you have more mailers, more signs, more radio and TV spots, and more polls so you can tweak your game plan when you find out what’s working and what isn’t. To spend money, you have to make money and Heck definitely has raised more, including personally loaning his campaign a little over $100K, more than Davis has spent in total. Since we already have a primary election in the books, we can take a look at what kind of impact spending may have had so far.

Spending Comp

As of the primary election on October 24th, Heck outspent Davis by a factor of 4.4x, spending $154K versus $35K. With the lop-sided spending, it’s a bit surprising that Davis actually took the most votes in the primary, 4,295 compared to Heck’s 4,213 (the final contestant, Democrat Mark Holden took 2,782 votes). Granted, it’s an extremely slim victory of 82 votes, but when you compare dollars spent per vote, it’s a drastic difference: $36.72 for Heck compared to $8.14 for Davis.

As far as the run-off, Heck has maintained the spending edge and 4x multiplier, at least through the reporting period which ended on November 1st. We won’t get the full picture until the election is over. With that said, Davis did have about $85K left in her campaign account compared to Heck’s $22K, so she seems better positioned to dump money on mailers and get out the vote efforts in the final weeks of the election, although supplementary campaign finance filing show continued fundraising for Heck.

home-score

If you recall, another factor in this race is that some of the voters are currently Heck’s constituents in Metro Council District 11. Incumbents generally have something akin to a home filed advantage in elections. Voters in the district know the name and, unless the candidate in question has angered the constituency in some way, a certain amount of goodwill generally exists. State House District 69, while quite a bit larger than Metro Council District 11, does have some overlap. So given a home field advantage, how did Heck do in those shared precincts? First, a note… due to council redistricting and the fact that Heck ran unopposed for the District 11 seat, I’m not entirely certain all of the split precincts are within District 69, but I opted to include them all. The LSU game is going even worse than anticipated and I’m a bit too curmudgeonly right now to care about accuracy.

SRD69

Quick overview, Heck beat Davis in the vote count in only 4 of 15 precincts that he currently represents as the District 11 Metro Councilperson. That’s also after having spent 4.4x as much money as Davis up to the primary election. As they say, Houston, we may have a problem?

Still, it all remains to be seen what’s going to go down today. The difference in the total votes cast for each candidate was 82 votes in the primary. That’s a rounding error. Also remember that there were another 2,700 something votes cast for the Democrat that these two will be scrapping over. So far, Heck’s mailers have definitely been focused on convincing voters that he can work across the aisle. The last mailer I got from Davis was a pretty masterful negative ad giving 1o reasons why Heck shouldn’t get my vote. You know, as you do.

Happy Election Day Everybody!

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Filed under Elections!, Random Musing

The Case For CATS

I sat down to write a blog post about the upcoming election this Saturday concerning the CATS Mass Transit Proposal. I started several different drafts of the post, trying to figure out how to address the myriad issues, both with the proposal itself as well as the arguments against the proposal. Every one of them seemed too lengthy (I know, surprise). I was getting frustrated and gave up on the whole thing, resigned to just continually barrage my Facebook wall and email contacts with  this excellent Guide to the CATS Mass Transit Proposal put together by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. Very easy to understand and full of facts without bias.

…and then I received an email.

Sent out by Q106.5, the email featured one of the most clearly worded and well articulated Frequently Asked Questions I have yet seen concerning the proposal. I’m pretty sure it’s a crib of several different Together Baton Rouge and Baton Rouge Transit Coalition documents, but it’s not like they’re turning it in for a grade. Great job to whoever put it together. So here you go: everything you have ever wanted to know about the upcoming election. Grab something to drink and settle in for a spell.

 

 

 

1) What is “Transit Reform” all about?
Comprehensive Transit Reform has three components: Governance Reform, to strengthen the CATS board; an Election on April 21st, to create a dedicated revenue source for transit which will fund significant service improvements; and an Accountability Report Card and regular citizen evaluations, to give citizens the tools to hold CATS accountable for delivering service reforms as advertised and on time. Transit Reform is about improving the lives of people and the economic development of our community by providing a cost-effective alternative to travel by automobile and reducing traffic congestion and overall transportation costs for gas, insurance and car repairs.

2) Why does Baton Rouge’s transit system need more funding?
The average Southern cities spend on public transit is $133 per capita. Baton Rouge spends only $27 per capita on transit, 20% of the Southern city average. This extreme and decades-long under-investment is a major factor in why we have such a poor transit system. The result is a system with 75-minute wait times, poor route coverage and one-way trip times of 2 hours, 20 minutes (the time it takes to get to Biloxi, MS). Baton Rouge appears to have the lowest per-capita funding on transit of any city in the country.

3) Why not have the riders pay for increased funding?
Transit systems in Southern cities receive on average 14% of their revenue from rider fares. Baton Rouge already receives 25% of its revenue from rider fares, meaning that Baton Rouge already gets almost twice the revenue from rider fares than the average for transit systems. Increasing fares even more to pay for improved transit would put an even greater burden on transit riders who already pay substantially more than riders in peer cities.

4) If transit is so important, why doesn’t the Metro Council pay for it out of its regular budget?
Nearly all transit systems around the country have their own dedicated revenue source, so that funding is stable and predictable. Very few systems — and virtually none in larger cities — are funded out of general municipal revenue. Baton Rouge is one of the largest cities in the country without a dedicated revenue source for transit.

5) If the April 21st election passes, the CATS system would receive $18 million in dedicated revenue and a total budget of almost $30 million. Is that too much money?
$18.4 million in dedicated revenue and a $29.9 million overall budget was the amount recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission as the minimum necessary to begin to build a modern transit system in Baton Rouge. This would bring CATS’ spending to $67 per capita, compared to its current level of $27 per capita — still a far cry from the Southern metro average of $133 per capita, but enough to build a high-quality, modern system. To put CATS’ proposed $30 million budget in perspective, the transit system in New Orleans has a budget of $76 million, serving a population 20% smaller than Baton Rouge’s service area.

6) Aren’t CATS buses sometimes empty? Why doesn’t CATS use vans or smaller buses?
Buses are like retail stores — they have busy hours and slow hours. Most people talk about buses being empty because they see them in the middle of the day. At peak hours — early in the morning and in the late afternoon, when people are going to and coming from work — most bus routes are full or nearly full. Running smaller vehicles at slow hours would require two different vehicles per route, which increases costs substantially. Furthermore, smaller vehicles actually are more expensive than larger ones, because they have a shorter lifespan. The 35-foot buses currently in use cost approximately $340,000 and have a life span of 12 years, costing about $28,000 per year. The smaller, 20-foot vehicles cost approximately $250,000 and have a life span of 5 years or less, costing $50,000 per year. Shifting to smaller vehicles would waste about $22,000 per bus per year.

7) Has CATS been wasting our money?
Efficiency analysis is an established and objective means to determine waste in any system. If a significant problem in Baton Rouge’s transit system were waste or inefficient use of resources, the system would show higher-than-average costs per unit output. Instead, efficiency analyses of the CATS system reveal that, according to four different measures of financial efficiency, Baton Rouge has significantly lower-than-average costs per unit output:

8) How were these “peer cities” decided?
The “peer city” analysis compared 10 significant Southern cities, which are the most likely to be in competition for businesses and residents. The Southern metro areas studied are Atlanta, Austin, Baton Rouge, Charlotte, Houston, Knoxville, Little Rock, Memphis, New Orleans and Raleigh.

9) I’ve heard that the April 21st election is taking place in a “gerrymandered district.” Is that true?
The accusation of gerrymandering is simple misinformation. State law provides CATS with two options for elections — to hold them either within the entire parish or within the city limits of any municipalities within the parish. CATS is holding the election in the city limits because it tracks more closely with the density of the ridership. The election is taking place in the permanent city boundaries of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary, not inside a gerrymandered district.

10) Why were Central and the unincorporated areas of East Baton Rouge Parish left out?
A key recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission was to align the area voting on and potentially paying for a dedicated revenue source more closely with the area that will be served by the transit system. There are no transit routes serving or currently planned for Central and most of the unincorporated areas, because low population densities in those areas that are not conducive to mass transit. Holding the elections in the cities of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary aligns the taxpayer area much more closely with the route service area.

11) But aren’t some of the transit routes outside of the city limits of Baton Rouge, Baker and Zachary?
About 95% of route mileage is inside the city limits where the vote will be taking place. The main area outside those boundaries is in the southeastern portion of the parish, which includes several hospitals and the Mall of Louisiana. Those lines will be continued because residents who live inside the city limits need access to those locations. The options for the election were either to hold the election in the entire parish or in the cities, and the cities provide a much closer alignment between the taxpayer base and the area served by the transit system.

12) Aren’t our property taxes too high already?
Historically, Louisiana has had extremely low property taxes and very high sales taxes, a system that places a higher burden on low-income residents. Louisiana ranks 51st in the country for property tax burden, behind all other states and Washington D. C. The chart below shows where East Baton Rouge Parish ranks on property taxes, compared to parishes and counties around the country.

Property Tax Burden as Percentage of Home Value (2009)
EBR ranking for property tax burden (before transit millage): 754th out of 792 U.S. counties/parishes. (one of the lowest in the nation)
EBR ranking for property tax burden (after transit millage): 731st out of 792 U.S. counties/parishes (still one of the lowest in the nation).
Source:  http://interactive.taxfoundation.org/propertytax/

13) Why doesn’t the homestead exemption apply for this election?
State law prohibits the homestead exemption for all property tax elections that are municipality-based. The homestead exemption is only applicable to parish-wide tax elections and therefore cannot apply for this election. Similarly, all fire districts, the Baker, Zachary and Central school district taxes and all other municipal taxes that are confined to city limits are not subject to the homestead exemption because they are not parish-wide taxes.

14) Why is the Metropolitan Council being removed from operational decisions?
In the past, accountability for the transit system has been split between two public entities, with decisions by the CATS Board over routes and fares subject to veto power by the Metropolitan Council. The Blue Ribbon Commission was unable to find a single other example in the nation with anything resembling this confusing, divided governing authority. The universal conclusion of transit consultants and the examples of best practices nationally is for the system to be governed by a single transit board, funded by a dedicated revenue source and accountable directly to voters.

15) How will we hold CATS accountable for results?
The highest-performing transit systems in the nation are accountable directly to voters, who have the power to support or reject dedicated revenue in the future — the power of the purse. CATS no longer will be accountable to the Metro Council or Mayor or to any other politician; it will be accountable to us, the citizens who pay the bills. Together Baton Rouge and the Baton Rouge Transit Coalition are developing a comprehensive Accountability Report Card, to give the citizenry the tools to assess CATS performance on an ongoing and incremental basis. That Accountability Report Card will have benchmarks and timelines for delivery for every item of transit reform. Together Baton Rouge will meet with the CATS board and management every three months after the April election, to grade them on each reform item covered by the Accountability Report Card and assess the implementation of the transit reform plan.

So there you have it: a lot of great answers to some great (and not so great) questions. There may be a few additional quibbles (i.e. #12 doesn’t address our high sales tax rate, but even including sales taxes currently puts us somewhere in the middle of the pack total tax burden wise rather than making us taxed to the hilt), but generally speaking I think this addresses a lot of the issues.

Politivore

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Food Truck Fiasco

Credit to Dave Gallent/225 for this awesome photo!

Food trucks are emblematic of the recent surge in entrepreneurial activity in Baton Rouge and have been welcomed by the community with open arms, hearts, minds, and mouths. Naturally, with all of the other problems in Baton Rouge, Councilman and restaurateur Smokie Bourgeois believes additional regulation of food trucks is a compelling concern for the community. Councilman Bourgeois, who never seems to find his interests conflicted, is proposing a modification to Title 11, Chapter 28 of the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances dealing with parking specifically targeting the practices of food trucks. These proposals are, at best, unnecessary.

 Before discussing the merits of the proposal, it is important to note that food truck vendors do not appear to be opposed to regulation, but to regulation for regulation’s sake. For example, all food trucks receive formal food and health inspections. This is clearly in the interest of the public good and helps to keep customers safe and food truck owners in business. Hell, Jared Loftus, one of the masterminds behind Ninja Snowballs and Taco de Paco, has welcomed the idea of posting proof of health inspections on the trucks. Food truck owners don’t seem to be concerned with that type of regulation (the meaningful kind), but rather the type of regulation Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would enact.

The first regulation called for in Councilman Bourgeois’ proposal would require food truck owners to secure written permission from property owners before parking their trucks to do business. Currently, the Code of Ordinances of the City of Baton Rouge, Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:416 and 11:438 (one for the city, the other for the Parish) prohibits vehicles from being parked “[u]pon privately owned property without the prior authorization and consent of the owner thereof.” The law is already on the books, why is there a need to add the additional caveat of securing this permission in writing and why does it only apply to food trucks? Seriously, does anyone believe this isn’t intended to stifle competition to Bourgeois’ restaurant?

Seriously, if we're concerned about patron safety, shouldn't we consider regulating businesses whose doors open directly onto a street/parking lot? Note the guardrails within feet of the front door of this establishment to protect the building, no such luck for the patrons.

The second regulation would prohibit a food truck from parking in a manner that would orient the serving window toward the street. Due to the nature of the business, food trucks share some similarities to the taxi industry, at least with respect to curb safety. From examining the Baton Rouge Code of Ordinances, there appears to be no law on the books requiring taxi operators to only allow passengers to enter the taxi on the passenger side of the vehicle, although this would clearly be the safer alternative. Instead, taxi operators and passengers have organically come to an unregulated agreement that this is the best option, food trucks should be allowed to operate under the same allowance. Beyond that, let’s consider the anatomy of a food truck. In its natural habitat, a food truck is parked in a metered parking spot in the direction of traffic due to previously existing traffic laws (Title 11, Chapter 28, Section 11:418 and Section 11:440 in case anyone is interested). Because of this mandated orientation, food trucks have their serving windows on the passenger side of the vehicle and away from traffic since customers are not going to hang out in the street waiting for food. No new laws are needed here.

While all can appreciate Councilman Bourgeois’ professed “concern” for food trucks, food truck patrons, and property owners, the City of Baton Rouge has laws on the books that address the intent of these regulations. The Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Department are currently challenged with a rash of murders and other crimes within our city. Does anyone really think they need the additional duty of enforcing unneeded and duplicative laws? Or is it more likely that Councilman Bourgeois is representing his own interests as the owner of a restaurant in an area that has quickly cottoned to the concept of the moveable feast?

EDIT: This post seems to have taken off pretty well. If you, like me, think this thing is ridiculous and veering toward abuse of office, please let the entire council know by sending them an email (metrocouncil@brgov.com) in addition to sending your individual Council member an email.

-Politivore

N.B. Some may notice the similarities between this post and a letter which may or may not appear in the Advocate within the next few days. After reading an attempt by a food truck fan to support the cause (which I frankly felt was really off-target), I felt compelled to draft a letter to the editor and sent it to the Baton Rouge Mobile Food Vendors Association for use as the basis of a positional letter. You will note that I am a little more pointed in my critique of Councilman Bourgeois’ intentions in this post than in the letter.

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Filed under Metro Council, Parochialism, Public Corruption

Y U H8 Democracy?

So Facebook basically blew up today after the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) announced they were canceling school on Wednesday because about 1/3 of the teachers in the Parish opted to take a personal day to protest Governor Bobby Jindal’s education reform package. This had the additional effect of annoying parents of students attending Catholic schools since EBRPSS inexplicably provides transportation for some of those students as well. Obviously, this creates some challenges. Parents of public school kids have to find something for their kids to do (BREC has provided free options) and parents of Catholic school students are going to have to arrange transportation. Good thing for the teachers that the legislature is voting on it and not the public, woe unto anyone who inconveniences a voter. With that said, I can see it being used as an issue in future EBRPSS related tax elections.

But my point in posting today is to address the folks mad at the teachers for taking off and protesting at the Capitol. Honestly, I cannot comprehend how anyone can be angry with a group of citizens peacefully assembling to petition their government for a readdress of a grievance. Sound familiar? It should, it’s basically the last two phrases in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. Seriously, these teachers are simply availing themselves of their rights as citizens of the United States (well, availing themselves of the right to be protected from Congress and, by extension, the States creating laws preventing the free exercise thereof, but that’s getting technical). So anyone angry at teachers for simply protesting may want to take a civics class.

OK, so we shouldn’t be mad at teachers for exercising their rights. Fine. So we should be mad at them for sacrificing student’s learning in order to protect their job conditions, right? Well, not really. While we tend to hold teachers to a higher collective standard because we entrust them with our children, there’s really no reason why they should be penalized for the decision to protect their rights. Teachers apparently believe that there is something worth fighting against in Gov. Jindal’s school reform bill. As government workers, they can only fight that bill on personal time, thus they have requested time off to do so.

I know what you’re saying: “Come on, man! I have to be able to be mad at something! I am so inconvenienced by this! I’m infuriated!” Alright, I’ll throw you a bone. If you want to be mad at something, take a close look at the EBRPSS Personal Leave policy. The policy basically authorizes teachers two days per school year that they can take off for whatever reason. In addition, the teacher is only required to provide 24 hours notice. When combined with the Employee Leave and Absence Policy as well as this PowerPoint presentation concerning EBRPSS policies (see Slides 25 & 26), it appears that the leave cannot be denied (At least that’s my reading of the documents, I welcome any clarifying information). Assuming that’s the case, this can obviously cause significant staffing problems under certain conditions (like the one we have now).

I have a problem with that policy. I served for 6 years in the US Army and had a generous leave policy to the tune of 30 days a year (granted, one of the working conditions was “willing to be shot at when necessary”, so the leave was well earned). With a generous policy like that, certain restrictions had to be put in place. One of the primary ways of ensuring proper staffing was requiring prior approval and advance notice. Here are my two suggestions for changing the Personal Leave policy to prevent something like this from happening in the future. First, as long as personal leave is requested at least 7 days out, it does not require approval. This protects the teacher’s  ability to take off for planned, important events regardless of the whims of middle and upper management. Second, personal leave requested less than 7 days out must be approved by the Central Office. This will ensure someone notices the potential for a critical staffing shortage. Taken together, teachers can still stage mass protests given sufficient notice and planning. This wouldn’t be so much of a debacle if parents had more than a one day notice that school was canceled. Ultimately, these two changes would allow the Central Office to prevent sudden, unanticipated shortages of staff allowing it to continue its mission of educating students while still providing teachers with the ability to exercise their rights.

-Politivore

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Filed under Protest, Schools

So Long and Thanks for All the Schools!

After the recent disaster that has been the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, it’s really no surprise that there’s a certain amount of dissatisfaction within the community. Add in the fact that the school system is performing near the bottom of the pack when compared with other districts in Louisiana and it’s definitely not a surprise that a portion of the East Baton Rouge Parish School System (EBRPSS) is pushing for secession.

While I can understand the dissatisfaction, I’m not so sure that a break-away school district is in the best interest of our community. I’ve previously addressed what I think of the balkanizing of East Baton Rouge Parish and I hardly think we need any more of it. So far, separating from the EBRPSS seems to be the first step in a region’s full disembarkation from the East Baton Rouge Parish community.

When listening to news reports concerning this proposal, proponents of the break-away district frequently site Zachary and Central as examples of how much better an area does if it breaks away from EBRPSS. For some reason, they routinely neglect to mention the City of Baker, an example of a school system with WORSE performance scores than EBRPSS even after breaking away. But let’s not confuse the matter, on either side the evidence is only anecdotal.

With the proposal just unveiled today, I have been unable to do much data-mining concerning the potential break-away. With that said, I have started to do a little bit of digging and figured I would circulate a few relevant data. Much of the information regarding demographic and population make-up is inexact due to my use of 2010 Census tract information* rather than more granular Census block information (Sorry, this is a hobby and not a job). Census tracts are occasionally large and may cross over the described boundaries of the district. With that said, the proponents have indicated this may not be the final shape of the district so all of these numbers could change in the future.

  • Using 2010 Census data, the proposed district is dominantly white with about 70% of the population falling into that category. Of 13 census tracts, 7 are over 75% white. While I don’t think the infamous “Deseg” case would apply to this district, it would be somewhat of a challenge to integrate the schools, particularly with only one true “Minority-Majority” tract (located generally between Airline, Coursey, and Sherwood). Even more so if a strong adherence to community school attendance zones exists. If, due to community school zones, a large number of minorities are concentrated in one school (which happens to be the worst maintained and/or most neglected), a new case may appear faster than you can say Plessy v. Ferguson.
  • Nearly a quarter (23.16%) of the district is under 18 years of age and would presumably comprise the potential student-base for this district. This almost exactly matches the overall Under-18 percentage share of the Parish population (23.55%). Additionally, the district represents 18.41% of the total Parish population and 18.10% of the Under-18 population. So, from an age distribution perspective, the district is pretty ideal.
  • The new district would contain the following schools: Woodlawn High, Woodlawn Middle, Woodlawn Elementary, Jefferson Terrace Elementary, Parkview Elementary, Shenandoah Elementary, Southeast Elementary, Wedgewood Elementary, and Westminster Elementary (which I attended, coincidentally). Overall, that’s sort of close to being in line with the Elementary-Middle-High School ratio in EBRPSS. Building an additional High School and Middle School or shuttering an Elementary School would put it more in line with that ratio. For reference, the Parish Elementary-Middle-High split is roughly 65%-15%-20% while the proposed district would have closer to an 80%-10%-10% split. Granted, the appropriateness of the split is heavily dependent on student populations and the capacity of the school (Woodlawn High is pretty big).
  • Interestingly, while the concept of secession has been batted around for a while, the actual proposal only comes shortly after the completion of several brand new to fairly new schools in the proposed new breakaway district: Woodlawn High ($24 Million), Woodlawn Middle ($10 Million), and Woodlawn Elementary ($17 Million). That’s over $50 Million in new buildings alone, not including the various renovations and additions completed at other schools in the proposed breakaway district.

Fact Break: the EBRSS Facility Improvement Plan was started around 1999 and is funded through a 1% sales tax resulting in a pay-as-you go system. This differs from a bond proposal where revenue is raised by selling bonds backed by future sales or property taxes. Phases I and II of the Facility Improvement Plan covered the new schools in the proposed breakaway district.

A big question is whether the area proposing to secede has actually paid taxes equivalent to $50+ million on top of the amount of money required for operations in their breakaway district over the last 15 or so years. If not, EBRPSS may well have an argument that the new system owes it for the investment it made in constructing these new schools that would now be taken away.

Anyway, that’s just to get started. It will be interesting to see how this conversation develops over the planned legislation and to see how the residents in the suggested breakaway district react.

* For the purposes of the proposed district, I used census tracts 38.04, 38.05, 39.06, 39.07, 39.08, 39.09, 39.10, 40.09, 45.05, 45.07, 45.08, 45.09, & 45.10

-Politivore

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Filed under Parochialism, Schools

The Consolation Election

We’re #3!

Sorry about the lateness of this post, very little time but I wanted to put something together for the election this weekend (Yes, there is an election this weekend). Some readers of this blog are almost certainly familiar with the Consolation Game. In many single-elimination tournaments determined by brackets, the losers of the semi-final matches are pitted against each other to determine the 3rd place finisher while the winners of the semi-final round duke it out for 1st and 2nd place. As one can imagine, the only people that generally attend or participate in the Consolation Games are those that have a stake in one or the other teams involved. After all, who really cares about 3rd place?

The upcoming election this Saturday, November 19th feels like a consolation election to me. In other words, no one really cares (or at least only small, focused interest groups care) about the election. The Louisiana Secretary of State’s office is already reporting that early voting has been extremely light, which doesn’t generally point to a great turnout come election day. When large numbers of people don’t turn out for election day, it usually becomes an entertaining battle featuring small, focused groups dedicated to certain candidates and/or special interests facing off against one another. So what’s on the ballot? It all depends on where you live.

Candidate Elections
There are several runoff elections throughout the Baton Rouge area, most for State office with a small number of local election runoffs depending on your Parish of residence. I’m not going to go over the multiple candidate races, but feel free to do your own research. I try to stay out of candidate elections due to the massive amount of uncertainty about whether a candidate will actually stick with their campaign promises. People are people.

Pet Peeve: The Real Estate Transfer Tax 
In a statewide context, one reason why this is likely to be a low-turnout election is because many precincts in the State only have one item on the ballot. That item is a Constitutional Amendment creating a prohibition against the creation of any new Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) in the State. I’ll get to the amendment in a second, but I’d like to know why this amendment couldn’t have been voted on last month with the OTHER five amendments? That, my friends, is a waste of time and your tax dollars. Seriously, only looking at FOUR parishes, the Shreveport Times figured out the state could have saved over $150,000 by holding the election in October as opposed to November. No telling how much more could have been saved statewide. Let’s cut to the chase: the only reason this amendment is being voted on now rather than a month ago is because this election was anticipated to have a lower turnout. It’s a lot easier for a special interest (in this case, the Louisiana Realtor’s Association) to have a greater impact on the final vote if a small number of people show up at the polls. Once again, political maneuvering costs taxpayer money.

Turning to the merits of the amendment… why do we need this? Essentially, the amendment prohibits the State or any parish or city from levying a tax or fee on the sale or transfer of immovable property (i.e. real estate). Currently, New Orleans is the only city in Louisiana that collects a fee for this type of transaction ($325). As far as I know, no other parish or city has even considered this option, other than an aborted effort by Livingston Parish a few years ago (it ended in disaster and the LP had to refund anyone who paid it). The proponents for the amendment have indicated they see it as a preventative measure. Um, OK. Even though there has been no indication that anyone really wants to pursue a fee/tax like this (particularly considering the Livingston Parish boondoggle) and considering the current anti-tax disposition of the voting public, this amendment is needed now?

Other Unnecessary Preventative Measures

If that’s the case, I think we need to start putting up posters about what to do in the event of a zombie outbreak, since that seems more likely to happen right now than a RETT passing anywhere in Louisiana. Unless someone can come up with a better reason than “Because I don’t want to pay it” for not adding what is essentially a sales tax to a real estate transaction, I don’t see any reason to prohibit RETTs through the Louisiana Constitution. Some proponents claim RETTs are basically double taxation, but that’s a pretty lame excuse. When you buy a car, you pay sales tax based on the price of the vehicle. After that, you pay periodic fees to register the vehicle and insure it passes safety and emissions standards. This would be basically that, but in reverse, since you pay property taxes based on the value of your house periodically and a RETT (at least the New Orleans one) is a flat fee regardless of sale price. Other opponents claim that RETTs will stifle the real estate market. Seriously? The real estate market in New Orleans, the only place in Louisiana that has an active RETT, apparently survived it. Why can’t other locations in the State if a RETT ever comes up? On top of that, about 75% of the states in the US have RETTs on the book either statewide or at the local level. People are still moving, real estate folks are still making money. I don’t know who comes up with these arguments.

In the end, the proponents of the Real Estate Transfer Tax amendment have elicited two eye rolls from me. Once by pushing for the placement of the amendment on the runoff ballot, thereby requiring the entire state to participate in this election and wasting taxpayer money which could be used for other purposes. Twice by putting forward this absolutely unnecessary amendment that is addressing something that isn’t even remotely an issue. Sadly, I’d put money on this amendment passing since the amendment proponents have dumped a decent amount of money into this race and have a pretty widespread, built-in support network in the form of every single person who holds a real estate license (at least according to my Facebook page). The only organized opposition would likely be something based in government or budget watchdog groups, neither of which are well funded.

As for me, I’m voting NO. The amendment is unnecessary and I think a message needs to be sent about special interest groups engaging in electoral shenanigans to gain a favorable advantage that unnecessarily expend taxpayer dollars.

-Politivore

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Proposition Election Post Mortem – October 2011 Edition

Let's get to work!

Let’s get the initial and obvious comment out of the way… barring medical emergencies, 2 out of 3 Louisiana voters suck. While the Secretary of State’s office has not yet released Parish by Parish turnout statistics, the estimate for statewide turnout is somewhere around 36%. Seriously? With around 8 days offered to vote (including early voting and excluding mail-in voting), only 1 in 3 people (plus the second guy’s foot) bothered to cast a ballot. That’s pathetic. Look, I wasn’t all that excited by most of the statewide races offered to me. In most cases, it was the cliched situation of choosing a lesser of two evils. Still, I held my nose and voted because I think it’s important. Regardless of the statewide races, there were a number of interesting local races as well as 5 Constitutional amendments that were Yes or No decisions. While I held out hope that turnout was better in East Baton Rouge Parish (EBRP) with local favorite Jay Dardene running in a competitive election, it looks like the race with the highest level of participation in EBRP was for the Governor, with about 32% of registered voters casting ballots (and surprisingly with hometown hero Bobby Jindal only pulling about 50% of the vote). Voting on local propositions was around 28% to 29%. On to the results…

Other analysts are welcome to pour over the local candidate elections, but the underlying rationale for some of the votes for those tend to involve an incredible amount of personal relationship minutiae, in some cases requiring one to know which candidates are being spurned by which business owners and/or pastors. I do this as a hobby, so getting up to date on all of that is not really worth it to me at this point. That’s why I’m focusing on the three parishwide propositions put forth to EBRP voters.

Pictorial Representation of Disabled Vet Homestead Exemption Vote

The proposition concerning doubling the homestead exemption for disabled vets passed in a landslide with 72% of the vote in EBRP. In fact, there were no precincts in EBRP in which it failed, although it came close in Southdowns (1-42A & 1-42B), College Town (1-69A & 1-69B), and portions of the Garden District adjacent to City Park (1-8 and 1-41A). That leaves us with the proposition elections for the Library Board of Control (LBC) and the Recreation and Parks Commission (BREC). While both propositions failed at the polls, the margin of victory was far smaller; the BREC proposition going down 48-52 and the LBC proposition failing 46-54. Because these propositions involved giving the three small cities of Baker, Zachary, and Central (BZC) in EBRP a greater voice than their populations warrant, it’s interesting to note who voted for and who voted against the propositions. Some of the results were expected, others less so.

  • “Split” Tickets: Unsurprisingly, if a precinct was in favor of one proposition, they were likely in favor of the other. Only 7% of the precincts (21 precincts) featured a “split” ticket, with one of the propositions being approved and the other failing. Of those 21 precincts, 4 voted against the BREC proposition and in favor of the LBC proposition; the remaining 17 voting in favor of the BREC proposition and against the LBC proposition. In most of these “split” ticket precincts, the margins of victory for either proposition were rather thin, regardless of whether the precinct had 500 registered voters or 1,000.
  • The Extremes: Somewhat surprisingly, the precinct that was most in favor (based on the margin of victory as a percentage of total ballots cast) of the BREC proposition was also most in favor of the LBC proposition. More surprisingly, on the other end of the spectrum, two districts swapped the #1 and #2 positions for being most opposed to the propositions, depending on the proposition in question. Why were these surprises? The precinct most in favor of the two propositions is not even in the BZC. It’s Precinct 1-95A, an overwhelmingly Democratic, overwhelmingly black area in incorporated Baton Rouge just north of Southern University. On the other end? The two precincts swapping places are almost polar opposites with respect to race and somewhat different with respect to party affiliation. Precinct 1-3 (#1 against the BREC proposition, #2 against the LBC proposition) is an overwhelmingly Democratic, overwhelmingly black area comprising portions of Old South Baton Rouge and Beauregard Town.  Precinct 1-8 (#1 against to the LBC proposition, #2 against the BREC proposition) is an overwhelmingly white, politically balanced area of the Garden District adjacent to City Park. It’s interesting that two precincts that are so similar with respect to demographics and political affiliation ended up on opposite ends of the spectrum (1-95A & 1-3) and at the same time see two precincts that are quite different with respect to demographics end up being so closely aligned in their opposition (1-3 & 1-8). Then again, considering this election was set-up as a north EBRP vs. south EBRP battle, perhaps not so surprising.
  • BREC v. LBC Turnout: In may seem surprising that the BREC proposition generated slightly more activity than the LBC proposition (77,532 vs 76,427 ballots cast), but it’s really a matter of perspective. While the LBC has had to deal with  negative media coverage related to the River Center Library rebuild, it wasn’t an issue in any particular candidate race. BREC on the other hand, was featured as a campaign issue for several candidates seeking office in parts of the BZC, particularly with regard to breaking away from the Parish (even though I previously showed arguments concerning the northern part of EBRP not getting their fair share are pretty ridiculous). Given the “double exposure” of BREC in both candidate and proposition elections, it may be unsurprising that the proposition featured the higher turnout of the two.
So what areas voted for and against the propositions? Rather than recap every area of town, the lists below identify precincts where a 33.33% or higher margin of victory was achieved in either direction. The margin of victory percentage is determined by taking the difference between the number of votes on each side of an issue and then dividing by the number of votes cast. For instance, if 10 votes were cast in a district, with 6 being in favor and 4 being against, the margin would be determined by subtracting 6 from 4 and dividing by 10, in this case .2 or a 20% margin of victory. When areas of town are listed, they don’t necessarily represent the entire area of town, but are merely the areas in which that precinct can be found.
  • FOR the BREC Proposition: Crestworth (54.74%, 1-95B),  Crestworth (44.21%, 1-95A), Scotlandville Middle (38.93%, 2-22A), Ryan Airport/Scotlandville Area (35.80%, 1-91A), Southern University (33.33%, 1-100A)
  • AGAINST the BREC Proposition: Beauregard Town/Old South Baton Rouge (41.46%, 1-3), City Park/Garden District (41.01%, 1-8), Southdowns East/Pollard Estates (40.06%, 1-56B), Garden District/Mid-City (36.11%, 1-7), Tara (35.02%, 1-74B), Belfair (34.93%, 1-14A), Istrouma/Winbourne (34.63%, 1-29), Roselawn/Gus Young (33.74%, 1-32B), Old Hammond/Drusilla/Jefferson (33.33%, 3-31B), College Town (33.33%, 1-69A), Capitol/Fuqua (33.33%, 1-10A)
  • FOR the LBC Proposition: Crestworth (53.85%, 1-95B),  Scotlandville Middle (44.72%, 2-22A), Crestworth (38.55%, 1-95A),  Ryan Airport/Scotlandville Area (38.64%, 1-91A)
  • AGAINST the LBC Proposition:   City Park/Garden District (44.04%, 1-8), Beauregard Town/Old South Baton Rouge (42.86%, 1-3), Capitol/Fuqua (40.63%, 1-10A), Garden District/Mid-City (39.62%, 1-7), Old Hammond/Drusilla/Jefferson (38.65%, 3-31B), Belfair (38.38%, 1-14A), College Town (38.14%, 1-69A),  Garden District/Hundred Oaks (37.30%, 1-48B), Staring/Pennington (37.14%, 1-66B) Old South BR/Nicholson (37.14%, 1-5A), Southdowns East/Pollard Estates (36.91%, 1-56B), Southdowns/LSU Lakes (36.25%, 1-41A), Seigen/Perkins East (35.76%, 3-4A), Winbourne/Ardenwood (34.85%, 1-62),  Tara (33.57%, 1-74B)
The Breakdown
So what does that tell us? Generally speaking, the strongest precinct support for these two proposals came from the northern part of EBRP, but not from within the BZC itself. That seems very, very odd, to be perfectly honest. To be sure, a quick glance shows the propositions appear to have passed in every precinct comprising the BCZ (except one, 2-28, where both propositions failed. Hat tip to JR Ball), but one would think the propositions would have passed with overwhelming support in those areas, instead of simply strong support. It appears that a significantly large minority of BZC voters disagree with Councilman Scott Wilson concerning their representation on BREC and the LBC.
As to the precincts voting against the propositions: the strongest opponents represent a nice mixture of black and white neighborhoods, spanning a range of affluent to impoverished. Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I see such a diverse group of people agreeing on the same thing, I tend to see that as the correct course of action.
Thanks to the voters of EBRP for voting down these two poorly conceived propositions. Let’s let BREC and the LBC get back to doing what they do best: providing for the intellectual and recreational needs of the citizens of the entirety of EBRP.

-Politivore

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