Election Trend: Voters Hate Tax Referendums  

Many political observers were surprised to see the defeat of several routine tax measures on the March 24 ballots, leaving some to wonder if this is a growing trend around the state. The election failures could have implications for the upcoming special session, especially for lawmakers who remain on the fence when it comes to revenue enhancers.

If voters are overwhelmingly rejecting tax renewals and increases at the polls, what will they do to lawmakers who approve the same at the Capitol?

In St. Tammany, a sales tax renewal for maintenance of the parish courthouse and jail were defeated for the third time in less than two years, the latter by 140 votes. Parish President Pat Brister said that while voters had rejected the taxes, the cost of operating the jail and courthouse would mean an $18 million cut to parish services elsewhere.

Sheriff Randy Smith said the failure of the tax renewal also means that his department will have to reduce its staff and lower the inmate population. The loss comes at a particularly difficult time for Smith, as the department is dealing with a string of scathing news reports about its practices and a federal grand jury has been impaneled to investigate former Sheriff Jack Strain.

“I think it’s a referendum on the parish government,” said James Hartman, a longtime political consultant in St. Tammany, when asked about the tax votes.

In St. Helena, voters handily defeated another tax — for the third time. Sheriff Nathaniel Williams had proposed raising the parish’s property taxes in order to fund salaries for additional deputies. The sheriff said that he is unable to stay fully staffed when the pay for deputies in St. Helena is significantly less than neighboring parishes.

In St. Landry Parish, proposed property tax hikes to fund parish schools were soundly defeated. Passage of the two proposals would have allowed the parish to raise teacher salaries and fund capital improvement projects for the school system. Local insiders say that defeat of the taxes means that the cash-strapped school board will have to now consider other means of funding.

This story was originally published in LaPolitics Weekly on March 29, 2018. Wish you had read it then? Become a part of our elite community by subscribing today!

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