Wednesday, 01 June 2011 13:10
Riser's Election Legislation Will Save Louisiana Money
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Louisiana CapitolNot many pieces of legislation have the triple virtues of saving taxpayers on the administration end, the paying end, and in reduction of government activity, but SB 108 by state Sen. Neil Riser does all of this and hopefully continues its move to enactment by the conclusion of this year’s legislative session in Louisiana.

This bill would eliminate regularly scheduled “local” election dates, those that, unless a special election is called for an elective office, occur at times other than regularly-scheduled elections for offices. In effect, with the intended exception of New Orleans, this means these may occur only in conjunction with statewide and federal office elections. The reduction follows on the elimination of one such date in 2006 andanother in 2008 to end these completely.

Reduced administrative costs help taxpayers in one way.

The two earlier bills together were estimated to save local governments around $2.2 million a year as these no longer had to contract with the Secretary of State to organize and oversee the election, nor locally have to pay costs incurred with moving voting machines and staffing precincts and voting registrar’s offices. The Legislative Fiscal Office refused to give an estimate on this bill, because with only three regular opportunities in four years to put these on the ballot, with a number of items stacking up in the largest five parishes there may not be enough voting machines with enough space for them. Thus, ancillary machines or paper ballots may be used, costing anywhere from around $50,000 to $90,000 for paper ballots for each – still cheaper in these parishes than a single issue-only election not on a statewide or federal election date.

Another benefit comes from the systematic incentive the standalone date provides for removing an incentive for expansion of government spending. A tried and true strategy of local governments has been to schedule these issues, most dealing with new and renewed taxes, on the standalone dates because these kinds of issues dealt with transfer of taxpayers’ money to small and discrete special interests within or allied with government. That creates an environment where the net beneficiaries, such as municipal, parish, and school district employees or special districts with limited jurisdictions, are relatively small in number and therefore stand to gain a significant increase in the benefit in a per capita sense, as opposed to voters, much more numerous and who thus pay small amounts per capita, many of whom do not directly pay for that benefit. In this situation where benefits are concentrated in a few and costs dispersed among many, the beneficiaries have much more incentive to go to the polls in elections that historically draw less than double digits in turnout, than the payers.

Thus, this structural quirk advantages special interests because of the turnout differential, unless a measure is very controversial that activates the public. In short, this disproportionately aids government in growing larger through easier usurpation of the people’s resources. But during regular election dates, the advantage disappears because other elections can motivate those normally unaware of the issue to learn about it in conjunction with voting on other things and the disproportionate turnout differential enjoyed by supporters of these measures evaporates as payers come out in similar proportions.

And, shelving the date also reduces overall government activity by reducing its engagement in a duplicative fashion. Why move around voting machines more than you have to? Why scrounge around to find more elections commissioners on more dates than needed, a task already difficult? Why pay more extra overtime to state and local employees to run these? If these things can be done all at once instead of the same things at separate dates, why not? The less activity by government, especially when it’s duplicative, always the better.

Opponents offer the straw man argument that this reduces “choices” of local governments. Both in a theoretical and practical sense this is untrue. As the dates have dwindled, there has been no great outcry – in fact, none at all – from local governments that fewer dates have even slightly inconvenienced them. As well, conditions almost never are so serious that a tax issue cannot be planned for well in advance; after all, expiration dates are known from the beginning for those tax and/or bond issues which are limited in life, and new issues generally have a long lead time. Only a truly incompetent local government or one facing an unanticipated emergency could get caught in a situation where an election had to happen in the near future, and present law already allows the State Bond Commission to grant exceptions to allow these elections at any time. The new law would limit these to once a year, plenty of opportunity for genuine, unforeseeable emergencies. This additional, rarely needed “choice” simply is not worth the costs to the citizenry not in an emergency situation.

Savings in operational costs, leveling the playing field for elections to eliminate a pro-spending bias, and overall reduced government activity all commend themselves to this bill. This bill now having passed the Senate, the House should emulate on its way to a no-brainer gubernatorial signature within the next month or so.

by Jeff Sadow, Ph.D.

Read his blog Between the Lines

Jeffrey Sadow

Jeffrey Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.   He writes a daily conservative blog called Between The Lines

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