- Elliott Stonecipher
October 30, 2016
Believe it: only ten days before Christmas, Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler, along with City Council boss Willie Bradford, plan to nix the Joys of the Season with a really mucky (and murky) tax hike. It is wrong in a lot of ways, not to mention likely illegal.
This is a garbage collection tax hike deceptively / illegally wrapped as a “garbage collection fee.” It would begin in 2017, and hammer us for $12 a month or $144 a year. As best we can tell with a lot of official fuzzing and hiding going on, here are key points and alerts.
1. The sudden “need” behind this tax increase is supposedly $8,000,000 a year for employee pay raises … but I’m not buying it.City Hall now blows through $491,000,000 a year. With our economy and population in steady decline – particularly our population of those who actually pay taxes – any new money should necessarily come from offsetting spending cuts. City Hall, as we know, sees real spending cuts as the end of the world.
2. If new revenue WAS necessary for the raises, a TAX increase would be legally required, in which case the people of Shreveport could – and would – have their chance to reject any further such taxation nuttiness. City Hall knows how that would turn out, or there would be no “fee” scheme.
Shreveporters already pay … (a) a 10.6% sales tax (11.6% at St. Vincent Mall with its extra Glover Sales Tax), (b) obscenely high property taxes, two- to three-times other Louisiana cities, and (c) skyrocketing water rates over coming years, the specific schedule for which has disappeared from the city website. To boot, Governor Edwards intends both gasoline and income tax increases next year.
3. To get what they want no matter what, Tyler, Bradford, et al, plan to grab $9,000,000 in yearly garbage collection revenue by calling this money a “fee” instead of a tax. A “fee” would require only 4-of-7 City Council votes for passage. Garbage collection stuff, now in the general fund, would get its very own budget slot, apparently key in calling this tax increase a “fee.”
4. This “tax” / “fee” ruse to prevent a vote by the people is old stink, not new. An excellent study by the Tax Foundation explains this, and how dangerous these typically illegal misrepresentations are to basic governmental integrity. Here is their key point:“This is not just a matter of semantics. In order to protect taxpayers, many state constitutions contain additional procedural steps and limitations that apply only to tax increases. These protective measures can be undermined if the legislature (e.g., City Council) can circumvent them by merely relabeling what would otherwise be a tax.” (i.e., calling it a fee).
5. Worse yet is one more type of rigging at issue here. Earlier this year, Bossier City turned water & sewer services over to a Baton Rouge private contractor, Manchac Consulting Group. Residents got a $24-per-month garbage tax, and city officials got juicy campaign contributions. Sometimes such deals are juiced with real – not campaign – money, made easier when only a few – four in this instance – council member votes are needed.
If THAT is what is underway, here is how the federal Hobbs Act refers to such, uh, “transactions” …
This Should Be Stopped … Now
In fact, we can no longer believe what City Hall tells us.
We have just lost the Barnwell Center to a direct lie told us about a $1,500,000 bond proposition we could approve to save it. We approved it, and City Hall promptly killed the Barnwell anyway.
More recently, City Hall proved it cannot even deliver basic services. It lost $1,000,000 of our money with water usage underbilling, then, to show us what they think of OUR money, chose not to recover the lost million.
Now, in this scheme, they use Shreveport’s absence of a current garbage fee when comparing our costs to those in other cities. In truth, we pay $2.50 a month plus an extra, bogus $.50 “security fee”. What they never mention in their comparisons is our obscenely high property and sales taxes.
The Tax Foundation deep-dive into these tricks and their likely illegality means we cannot assume this wacky plan to call a tax increase a “fee” has been legally vetted. We know, particularly, that it has not be directly challenged in court, which will likely prove necessary.
Shreveport is doing itself in with freakishly high taxes. Frankly, it’s just crazy.
When some of these officials are willing to cheat to raise them this time, “crazy” crosses the line into something far, far more serious.
© 2016 ELLIOTT STONECIPHER ALL RIGHTS RESERVED