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A NEW ORLEANS TRIBUNE EDITORIAL

If you’re an elected official that wants to win friends . . . or votes, there are two sure-fire focuses that will garner applause—our children and the elderly. And let’s face it—the elderly are typically chronic voters, so …

It seems these facts were not lost on the members of the New Orleans City Council when they voted last week to put a property tax increase before voters on the March 30, 2019, ballot to fund programs for the city’s elderly residents through the Council on Aging.

The measure was co-sponsored by Councilman-at-large Jason Williams and District D Councilman Jared Brossett. And it was unanimously supported by their colleagues on the Council. Well, of course it was! For real, who is going pop you for wanting to do more for elderly New Orleanians? Measures like this one are the epitome of low-hanging fruit.

Brossett, Williams and the rest of the Council are betting on the notion that you can’t go wrong even with a tax increase as long as you earmark the money to help our babies or our grandparents.

That is you can’t go wrong until the folk that are working hard and struggling right now to keep up with rising tax bills and higher costs of living have to struggle even more. You can’t go wrong until more folk run the risk of losing their homes to foreclosure or tax liens. You can’t go wrong until more people can’t afford to live in New Orleans.

If voters approve the measure next spring, many homeowners will see their tax bills rise. We suspect that even renters would see increases as additional taxes and fees are passed on to them through rent hikes. In fact, the Council reportedly moved forward without knowing the answers to some pretty important questions, such as how much money the tax would raise or what sort of increase the average taxpayer could expect to see if it passes. Growing tax bills and a gentrifying city are already pushing New Orleanians out of their homes, their neighborhoods. Too many residents in this city are already housing cost-burdened. A new tax could end up doing more harm than good for the people of the city. Moreover, to put a tax bill on ballot without a detailed and explicit consideration of what it would cost residents before voting to put it on the ballot is careless.

But never mind that. In this new Insta-world, a so-called plan to even superficially attack the challenges elderly residents face is sure to get you way more Facebook likes and maybe even a few more votes than the painstaking task of good, solid, attentive governance. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think the City Council was daring the people of New Orleans to vote against this tax. A vote against this tax increase would be like . . . like a vote against dear ol’ grandma.

And who’s gonna vote against grandma?

Well, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has expressed some reservation over the proposal. According to her spokesman Beau Tidwell, the Mayor would rather look at other ways to apportion more funds to the Council on Aging without a tax increase. We think that would be wise. Isn’t that what we all generally must do with our own budgets to accommodate a new expenditure? We look at how much we have coming in and how we’re using it. We prioritize. We look at ways we can cut here or there. Maybe we realize the increased expense means we have to save a little less, at least for a little while. But we do what we have to, because unlike city government, we don’t typically have the ability to send our “bosses” a proposal to increase our incoming revenue whenever the spirit hits us even if we have a noteworthy reason to do so.

To be sure, we would love to see the city do more to help create programs and opportunity to assist one of our city’s most vulnerable and venerable populations. But if the City Council wants to impress us, it would do more to help senior citizens with the funds already available in the city’s revenue pot.

If these elected leaders really wanted to see us dance in the streets, they would strengthen and exercise their regulatory control over utility companies like Entergy and Sewerage & Water Board to reign in rates and fees so that elderly New Orleanians aren’t faced with choosing between the lights and lunch.

We would be downright ecstatic if the City Council did more to address affordable housing, spur equitable economic development and help create good-paying jobs so that the children and grandchildren of elderly New Orleanians will remain in the city, build their lives here, and contribute to a strong, supportive multi-generational community. And more effective laws and enforcement to decrease cases of abuse, exploitation and fraud against the elderly are always welcomed.

Yes, we realize that free home-delivered meals have become an important part of the safety net for seniors who are in need. Agencies like the Council on Aging do good work; and our position is no indictment of their efforts. But the City Council ought to seriously consider looking at how it can prioritize the immediate needs of elderly New Orleanians without asking overburdened taxpayers to pay even more.

Instead of increasing taxes because the waiting list for Meals on Wheels is too long, how about doing the real hard work that decreases the number of senior residents that have to rely on free meal delivery programs.

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