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Low Voter Turnout

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Allain’s 20 percent turnout is standard for money issues

Last May, 12 percent of Bossier Parish voters turned out to cast ballots in the Bossier Parish School Board’s election for the renewal of three property taxes for another 10 years.  This was a $400 million dollar proposition.

Interestingly, the voter turn out was about the same a decade earlier when the same property taxes were renewed.

Twelve percent of voters made the decision for all of the parish’s property tax payers – individuals as well as businesses.

If State Senator Bret Allain, R-Franklin, had his way, a minimum of 20 percent of voters impacted by the result of such elections would have to turn out for elections like those above described.

In an April 11 press release explaining the rationale for Allain’s Senate Bill 200 noting:  “… Senator Brett Allain … believes that if Louisiana citizens are asked to put up their hard-earned money to pay taxes, more than just a handful of voters should be deciding on those taxes in local elections.

Allain said the bill was about “… setting a higher standard for political subdivisions and special taxing districts to increase taxes on citizens … All too often we see elections called at a time when minimal voter turnout can be expected.  We ought not to have a situation where 2% of the electorate is deciding on tax proposals that impact the other 98%.”

Allain’s bill, a constitutional amendment, has been discussed by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee – said discussing concluding with a 5-5 vote.  It remains in committee to be heard later.

Advocated of Allain’s measure include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and local Chambers of Commerce.

According to Allain’s press release, LABI Taxation and Finance Council Director Jim Patterson said, “Our members believe it is only right that a reasonable percentage of registered voters participate in any decision to impose or increase local taxes on the people and businesses in our state.  We support Sen. Allain’s bill because the measure seeks to bring this about.”

Notably, the majority of property taxes in Louisiana – 70 percent – are paid by businesses.  Homeowners pay the other 30 percent, after the application of the homestead exemption.  Not only is there no exemption for the business community, they are actually taxed twice – property and fixtures and inventory.

Not at all surprising, however, are the opponents to Allain’s bill.  Local school boards, municipal and parish governments, and special taxing districts would find the 20 percent voter turn out threshold an often difficult standard to achieve.  Such voter participation doesn’t often occur these days, even in elections to choose or re-elect City Council, school board, or Police Jury members.

Several members of the committee opposed Allain’s bill citing, among other issues that the voter apathy that tends to produce low voter turnout is not likely to improve with Allain’s proposal.  And it was also noted that many elected officials don’t see a 20 percent turn out in their elections.

While Allain’s bill likely isn’t destined to leave the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee, chances are it would get a more favorable hearing from the public with broader dissemination.  It’s easy enough to say that those who turn out for elections are the deciders of the ballot issues.  On the other hand, apathy isn’t the only culprit in low-turn out elections; sometimes is the stealth factor – little public discussion by a taxing body leaving much of the voting public uninformed.

Maybe a 20 percent voter turn out standard isn’t the answer.  But something sure needs to happen if the dwindling number of voters are the determiners of our future when it comes to taxes and other major issues.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.net 

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