Momentum grows for Nov. 7 vote on assessors
Advocate of delay changes his mind
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
By Bruce Eggler Staff writer
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, key state legislators and leaders of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans and the Business Council of New Orleans all have agreed to support Nov. 7 as the date for voters to decide the fate of a constitutional amendment that would cut the number of Orleans Parish assessors from seven to one, Nagin said Monday.
The House is expected to consider the issue today.
Advocates of consolidation say that having just one assessor would make assessments fairer and more uniform citywide, while opponents say it would make the assessor's office more remote from the people.
At the urging of Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, the House Ways and Means Committee voted last week to delay a statewide vote on the proposed amendment until October 2008. But Richmond said Monday that he now supports having the election this fall.
The Senate has passed a similar measure setting the election for Nov. 7.
If amended by the House to reinstate the Nov. 7 date, House Bill 642, sponsored by Rep. Austin Badon Jr., D-New Orleans, would then have to be approved by two-thirds of the House.
The amendment then would go to the public for final consideration. To pass, it would need a majority vote in Orleans Parish as well as statewide.
The merger would take place in 2010, allowing the seven assessors just elected to serve out their terms.
Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, the New Orleans Business Council and a coalition of more than 20 grass-roots and public-interest organizations had been lobbying to set the vote on the amendment for Sept. 30. But Nagin said they have agreed to the slightly later date.
"I asked our legislative leaders and the civic activists to find a compromise, and I applaud them for reaching an agreement that serves the interests of all. Turnout for the November election will be high, and I'm confident the will of the people will be reflected in that vote," Nagin said.
"Assessor consolidation will benefit all citizens. It is a necessary first step to having uniform and fair assessments for all that will provide transparency and efficiency to the process resulting in stable and predictable city tax revenues," he said.
Besides voting on the bill to consolidate assessors, the House this week also will debate whether to merge New Orleans' separate civil and criminal court systems and several related offices.
Reducing the number of elected offices in New Orleans has been a longtime goal of good-government advocates, but it has met with sharp resistance from some local legislators.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried unsuccessfully to steer a consolidation package through a February special session, and she has lobbied aggressively for its passage in the current session.
Richmond said he had proposed delaying the election on the assessors amendment until 2008 to give more of New Orleans' hurricane-dispersed voters a chance to return home. But he said he now is "comfortable with the November date" because he is convinced it "will have high voter turnout," which he said is essential for a constitutional amendment that would abolish long-existing offices. "My concern is with having maximum voter participation," he said.
Badon said the agreement on the election date "is testament to our ability to come together as a community."
Getting the consolidation measure through the Ways and Means Committee was seen as the key to winning final legislative approval. The panel had voted 8-6 in a special session in February to reject a similar bill, but three committee members who voted against the measure in February, including Richmond, joined the majority side in last week's 11-2 vote to send the bill to the House floor.
Two Ways and Means members who helped kill consolidation efforts in the past -- Rep. Alex Heaton, D-New Orleans, the brother of 7th District Assessor Henry Heaton, and Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, the son of Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold -- did not take part in last week's vote.
Besides Blanco's strong support, the bill also had endorsements by many New Orleans business and governmental leaders.
The vote on Richmond's amendment to delay the vote was 10-5. It would have set the vote for the congressional elections on Oct. 4, 2008, while Badon's bill, like the already-passed Senate bill sponsored by Sen. Ann Duplessis, D-New Orleans, set the election for this year's congressional ballot on Nov. 7.
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Bruce Eggler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3320.