The New Orleans Advocate voter guide

As a handy guide for voting in the Dec. 6 election, here’s a recap of The Advocate’s positions on various proposals on the ballot in the New Orleans area.

Casting your vote

The Louisiana Secretary of State Elections Division offers the following guidance on casting a ballot:

When you go to the polls to cast your vote in an election, be sure to take one of the following:

Driver’s license

A Louisiana special ID

Some other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.

If you do not have any of these items, you may still cast your vote by signature on a voter affidavit.

You can get a free Louisiana special ID at the Office of Motor Vehicles by showing your voter information card.

If you have misplaced your voter information card, contact your Registrar of Voters for a new one or print your own by logging into the “Louisiana Voter Portal” as a voter. Click the “Voter Registration” tab at the top then click the “Print Voter Information” link located on the ribbon on the left-hand side.

Election Day

Should any problems or questions arise, the principal office of the Registrar of Voters in each parish will be open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on all Tuesday elections. Election Day voting hours are from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on all Saturday elections. Don’t forget to bring your picture ID to the polls.

ORLEANS PARISH SCHOOLS TAX

If there is one thing that New Orleans teachers and students got used to before 2005, it was the dismal condition of schools. Roofs leaked, walls molded, pipes were broken — the catalog of facility disrepair was an outward and visible sign of the disarray of the old Orleans Parish School Board.

After the disastrous storms of 2005 and the ensuing levee breaches, there was at least the chance for a fresh start, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayers. With money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, New Orleans is on its way to a dramatic turnaround educationally — not just in the innovations in classrooms that have been widely admired around the country, but also in school facilities.

The 2011 School Facilities Master plan is in the process of building 35 entirely new schools, renovating 18 and refurbishing 27 more. That’s a huge plus for the community, whether the schools are under the jurisdiction of the OPSB or charters.

What is needed, though, is foresighted provision for maintenance of the new facilities. A plan was put together under legislation from Rep. Walt Leger, of New Orleans; Act 543 passed unanimously by the Legislature, and it now goes to the public in the form of a tax proposition on the Dec. 6 ballot.

Property taxes would not increase, but an expiring 4.9 mills now used for paying off school bonds would be extended for 10 years to pay for major repairs to school facilities. As the bonds are paid off, the tax proceeds — eventually about $15 million per year — are dedicated to a facilities fund for each school.

Protections will be put in place to ensure that the money is only spent on major repairs in accord with a facility plan for each site.

Oversight will be provided by either the Orleans board or the Recovery School District in the case of charter schools.

The FEMA contribution to rebuilding schools was one-time money. Passage of this tax would not be the total solution to future facility needs but would set up a substantial fund toward repairs that we know will be needed.

We agree with the Bureau of Governmental Research: “With new and renovated schools coming online, the need for regular repair and replacement of New Orleans’ school facilities is growing once again. The tax proposition would go a long way toward avoiding past practices of neglect and ensuring that school buildings are preserved for generations of students to come.”

We urge New Orleans voters to approve this proposal.

JEFFERSON PARISH CHARTER AMENDMENTS

In a year when voters were confronted with no less than 14 proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution on Nov. 4, now it is Jefferson Parish’s turn to make the Dec. 6 runoff ballot quite a bit longer than it otherwise would be.

There are 11 propositions that would amend the parish charter. Some of them are minor updates, but others include a number of rewrites of particular sections by the Charter Advisory Board.

As voters are expected to slog through the list, as with the prior list of constitutional amendments, we present our views on the proposals. In some cases, we disagree with the philosophy of specific proposals, but we note that all are supported by the Parish Council and administration of President John Young.

In any case, it’s a long list, and we encourage voters to consult the invaluable guide to them by the Bureau of Governmental Research. Early voting begins Saturday.

Proposition 1: FOR. Language on investigations into parish operations by the council would be clarified.

Proposition 2: AGAINST. It would prohibit most outside income for the parish president. We believe voters are the proper judges of whether an official is giving full-time service for a full-time check.

Proposition 3: AGAINST. It would allow the parish, if permitted under state law, to do away with the most comprehensive advance notice of proposed ordinances, publication in the parish’s official journal, The New Orleans Advocate, ahead of time. While we have an obvious financial interest here, we believe first of all in transparent government. “While citizens can currently access summaries and notice on the council’s website, the practice of posting them is subject to change,” BGR noted in opposing this proposition.

Proposition 4: FOR. This would make explicit in the charter that the Finance Department does not oversee the Law Enforcement District. That is already the case, so this is a bit of housekeeping.

Proposition 5: AGAINST. This is one of the big rewrites on parish personnel issues. We agree with BGR that although much of it is positive, it imposes a one-term limit on Personnel Board members and introduces political appointments to positions in the Parish Attorney’s Office hitherto with Civil Service protection.

Proposition 6: AGAINST. The legal services section of the charter would be extensively rewritten, improving parts related to the authority of the parish attorney, but also allowing patronage politics through council hiring of special legal counsel.

Proposition 7: FOR. This would allow for eventual expansion of the parish planning board’s duties, though no specific proposal is on the table.

Proposition 8: FOR. This dedication of funding for the Inspector General’s Office would further insulate it from political retribution.

Proposition 9: FOR. This bit of housekeeping would correct some university names listed in the charter.

Proposition 10: AGAINST. This is a big issue, involving locking away potential proceeds from projected sales or leases of the two big parish hospitals. It incorporates, probably unwisely, existing powers of the Parish Council over hospital districts and the existing hospital governance structures, which have resulted in major conflicts over the sales. The idea of restriction of the proceeds of any deals to health care is reasonable enough, but BGR finds these proposals too restrictive.

Proposition 11: FOR. More administrative housekeeping: This would require that the parish retain records of the charter advisory committees.

ST. BERNARD LEVEE TAX

As St. Bernard Parish continues to recover from the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of levees, the good news is that the U.S. government has funded major improvements to levees, pump stations and floodgates protecting the parish and its neighbors.

If Uncle Sam pays for the construction, though, local government is responsible for operating and maintaining the improvements since Katrina.

We urge voters in the parish to approve a new tax that will pay for operations and maintenance of the 60 miles of levees and other structures passed into the control of the Lake Borgne Basin Levee District.

It is not a small tax at 7.5 mills for 30 years, supplementing the existing 11.1 mills for levees and maintenance. Yet the incredible, and continuing, costs of the events of 2005 make it one of the insurance investments that St. Bernard Parish needs.