The defeat of Mary Landrieu, Louisiana’s newly lame-ducked senator, over the weekend led the news cycle. But the untold story of Louisiana’s election day came from St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans, where voters rejected measures for over $6 million in property taxes.
Voters struck down most of the proposed renewals Saturday by at least 60 percent, a percentage that Parish Council Chairman Guy McInnis McInnis called “a serious message to government.”
“We have to seriously look at the budget, and we need to look at cutting the budget,” McInnis said. “Regardless of whether we put them on the ballot again, we have to prepare ourselves for not having that money because they may fail again.”
And the tax rejection came as the costs of maintaining services rise for the parish’s smaller post-Hurricane Katrina population.
There are roughly a third less people, homes and jobs in St. Bernard now than before Katrina, and those who returned are paying about 30 percent more in taxes, including 35 new mills added to the tax rolls in 2013 for firefighting and the policing.
This isn’t the first time voters in the parish have spoken up — in April, 80% of voters rejected a $9 million tax increase to benefit the county’s hospital.
Residents blame an unusually large levee tax proposal for spearheading the anti-tax sentiment, while others claim the timing of the vote – just after property tax bills arrived in the mail – for fanning the flames. One local educator coined a phrase that hits the nail on the head.
Ron Chapman, a Nunez Community College history professor, said he blamed the “administration and the council for not educating voters.”
“If you don’t know what something is, you vote against it,” Chapman said.
He also said there is post-Katrina tax fatigue in the parish.
“We have a real problem here. We are stuck having to pay for infrastructure that is too big for the people in it,” he said. “It’s like old people who own a large home and then their children move out and it is just too big for them to maintain.
Chapman added, “The parish really should have shrunk its footprint after the storm. Because, how are we going to pay for it? We are finding out now that we can’t.”