Thanks to a quick analysis by University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak, we now have some idea of who voted for Saturday’s New Orleans public safety millage increase and who sent it to an eight-point defeat.
Geographically speaking, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 7.5 mill property tax hike for police and fire protection won a majority of votes in City Council District B and lost everywhere else. As for a rough racial breakdown, heavily white areas were more likely to favor the tax than those with large African-American populations, according to Chervenak’s numbers.
That only tells us the who, though. It doesn’t shed much light on the why.
Most institutional players, from newspapers to unions to good government groups, backed the referendum. And a UNO poll released last week suggested a pretty high level of public support for the mayor and police chief, who were hoping to pay for additional cops with the new money, and for firefighters who finally struck a deal with Landrieu to settle long-running pension and back pay shortfalls. The fire portion of the millage was aimed at helping the city pay up.
Yet clearly there was some skepticism out there over the city’s move to raise more money, and probably over its use of a tried-and-true method for giving tax hikes the best chance of passing: scheduling the vote on a busy weekend with nothing much else on the ballot. These elections tend to attract the most committed, civic-minded voters to the polls, and indeed, about 10 percent of registered voters showed up. The flip side is that, when turnout is this low, it doesn’t take many naysayers to tip the balance.
Despite supporters’ careful scheduling, they may have been hurt by events entirely outside their control. The vote just happened to take place shortly after the state raised sales and other taxes to fill its huge budget hole, and amid relentless news reports that more tax hikes and service cuts are coming.
The voters’ resistance to opening their wallets may have even held down the numbers for the second question on the ballot, a bond issue, mostly for road repairs, that would not raise taxes. This measure passed by a measly six points. And it failed outright in Council Districts D and E, the two areas where the public safety millage was least popular — yet which, like the city as a whole, have plenty of bumpy roads in need of repair.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.