06 April 2016

Committee action, Apr. 6: SB 245, SB 148

SB 245 by Sen. John Milkovich would reduce the dates on which local tax elections could be held. He told the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee that these standalone elections, because of their low turnout, favored local government over taxpayers. He presented a long jeremiad trying to establish that the middle class paid too much in taxes relative to other groups and that it worked too hard to find the time to vote in every election. He said legislators should represent the people, not local government with its lobbyists, and only have tax elections during higher-stimulus elections to help out busy people.

After technical amending, Sen. Neil Riser expressed sympathy, but pointed out that local governments can petition for a special election as an “emergency” which can moot the point of the bill. Even as the term was removed from statute, the Constitution still allowed for it on four dates not always in conjunction with other scheduled dates, with “emergency” being a very subjective term.

Sen. Troy Carter, but pointed out that in Orleans Parish in particular the bill would remove some high-turnout dates as possibilities for elections. He said in this instance voter access should trump saving money. Milkovich said if the bill passed out of committee he would amend it on the floor to allow Orleans could hold these elections on those dates.

Sen. Jim Fannin pointed out that in his experience the State Bond Commission never turned down a request and given the timing involved the bill would make little difference. Milkovich said despite that, the bill if nothing else demonstrated significant symbolic commitment.

Opponents representing local governments said four dates a year already were quite restrictive, that they fully advertised the elections by law, that different budgeting cycles could make budgeting more cumbersome for some, that it introduced state government micromanagement, that ballots would become too cluttered that could inspire reduced interest and increase costs, and that it would mean fewer opportunities to vote.

Sen. Mike Walsworth thought that new technology used for early voting that guided voters from item to item would help increase voting on these items, even with cluttered ballots. However, he was told roll-off still occurred to a significant extent.

Milkovich closed by saying local participation would be boosted by consolidating dates, which doesn’t ask too much of the people. The bill failed 4-5, with all Democrats against except for Sen. Greg Tarver, and all Republicans for except for Fannin.

SB 148 by Sen. Ryan Gatti would cull largely inactive boards and commissions from the state. He had an amendment for offering that would alter the list, and expected other changes. The amendment was approved without objection.

Carter asked whether Gatti would hold off, wondering whether some of the inactive panels were trying to get going did not know about the bill and should have a chance to ask to be made exceptions, especially as no costs savings would be realized. Gatti thought that would happen naturally as the bill went through the process and that did not need delay. He noted 479 of 518 seemed active, defined as ability to meet quorums over the past year.

After another amendment creating an exception passed without objection. Chairwoman Karen Peterson noted that appointing authorities may not have presented opportunities to staff these, and echoed Carter’s concern. At this point, Gatti surrendered and said he would defer voluntarily, and make arrangements for boards on the chopping block to be informed of their status.

No comments: