A Step Forward

There is a tax election Saturday in Lafayette, and depending on who you listen to, a “yes” vote will bring about a range of terrible consequences—from encouraging short-sighted government waste to inviting a wholesale takeover of our community by a United Nations bent on destroying our personal freedoms.

In case you haven’t been following too closely—which is an understandable response given the negative energy surrounding the public “debate”—a “yes” vote would re-dedicate a portion of an existing public health property tax that has historically run a small surplus into two new areas: (1) more drainage projects and (2) an initiative to help Lafayette build its cultural economy—with the catchy acronym CREATE.

It should be, as tax elections go, a pretty humdrum event. No one will pay more or less taxes if the measure passes or fails. A “yes” vote would move future tax dollars from one bucket into another bucket.

But a lot of loud and persistent voices are trying to sow doubt, uncertainty, and fear—and they hope it works.

The drumbeat of misinformation has been relentless—the Facebook page Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes, which first formed to fight the school board’s tax proposal this spring, has led the charge. Talk radio has taken up the mantle as well.

We should not be surprised by this—these types of anti-government, anti-tax messages are always around.

But what is disappointing is how few voices in the community have been willing to engage. With too few exceptions, the usual institutions that we all depend on to shape a productive dialogue—the media, the business community, and many of our leaders —have been largely silent.

As a community we need to make decisions like this in a way that is reflective, adaptive, transparent, and evidence-based. The discussion about this election—like the school tax election earlier this year—has fallen well short of that standard.

There are plenty of good reasons to be unexcited about a “yes” vote on Saturday. You could argue that the public health millage surplus would be better spent on expanding much-needed public health services. You could argue that this is another tax that will be collected parish-wide, but spent primarily in the unincorporated parts of the parish.

You could argue that the administration and council could have provided a more detailed plan on how to spend the new drainage and CREATE funds and what impact we can expect versus what we will still need to do.

And you could argue that the $2.5 million increase in annual drainage spending is a drop in the bucket compared to our actual needs—clearing out more ditches may result in some localized relief, but where is the plan to address our larger issues? We are a growing parish in a low-lying, flat area of the world, at a time when intense rainfall events are happening with increasing regularity. What are we doing now to ensure that we grow and develop in a more sustainable way?

These are all important issues to discuss. But we haven’t discussed them. That’s not someone else’s fault—it’s our fault, collectively. Public debates about important issues suffer when a large portion of the community abdicates their civic responsibility—recent dismal voter turnout is a symptom of this.

Our view is that a “yes” vote is a small step in the right direction—it will not solve everything, but it’s a start.  So please vote “yes” on Saturday.

And if you are on the fence, please consider this—there is more at stake in Saturday’s election than just drainage.

Things are tough right now in Lafayette, and it’s not just about the economy. The defeat of school tax and two property tax renewals early this year deflated a lot of people. The lack of institutional leadership is noticeable and disheartening.

Many young professionals are worried whether Lafayette is the type of place they want to live or raise their children. While other cities band together to do the heavy lifting required to be the type of place the next generation values, Lafayette languishes, caught in a cycle of inaction.

Our city is listing toward mediocrity. It’s okay to be disappointed and upset about that. But it is not okay to do nothing to prevent it from happening. And voting “yes” on Saturday—for the rededication and the second try at the renewals—is the easiest, most immediate thing you can do to begin to right the ship. A “yes” vote is your signal to the rest of us that you are willing to take a chance on Lafayette. A “yes” vote is a small step, but it’s a step forward.

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