Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Fuzzy math

Today’s Advocate has an article including comments from lawmakers and appointees about the need to cut spending and the struggles that lie ahead as those cuts are made. A few lines toward the end caught my attention:

Renee Free, first assistant to Secretary of State Al Ater, said she's been told to prepare for a 12 percent cut. Such a cut would close museums, furlough 10 to 12 employees and force the department to fire student workers and part-time staff, she said. Another concern, she said, is the statewide election proposed in current legislation. The election would take place this year. "If we have to do an election, you will have to appropriate $3.4 million," Free told the committee, explaining that the department doesn't have the money to pay for an election.”
Think way, way back to July 2005 when the governor vetoed a bill that would have eliminated one of the state’s several scheduled elections. I wrote a column and posted comments on this blog condemning the veto. My column in the Shreveport Times that week began,
In her inaugural address, Governor Blanco spoke of her intention to provide “a new kind of government in Louisiana -- one that is open, progressive and accountable to its people.” So when the state legislature passed a bill eliminating the state’s third-Saturday-in-January election date, expectations were high that the principle of good government might prevail this time around. HB 415 would, after all, have made the state more “open, progressive and accountable to its people” by eliminating what can only be considered a superfluous election date and by actually saving the state at least $500,000.
Not surprisingly that column was met with criticism by groups arguing that eliminating an election wouldn’t save the state any money at all. Indeed, one reader from a group that would have been affected by the changed election cycle quoted the fiscal note on the matter for me:
Legislation has no fiscal impact on the Secretary of State. Based on an average annual cost of January elections held during the last four years, local governing authorities could realize cost savings of $526,025. However, it is unknown how much of this amount would be saved if local governing authorities hold bond, tax and proposition elections on dates coinciding with other available election dates. If this occurs, the total cost of the statewide election is prorated between the state and local governments. The pro rata share is difficult to estimate, since it is based on the number of local entities with issues on the ballots. The above table only illustrates the calculated savings from removing the January election date for these measures. There is no anticipated direct material effect on governmental revenues as a result of this measure.
So now, in November, I’m confused. To justify the veto of HB 415 in July, political interests (and the governor) argued that canceling one of the state’s many statewide elections would save the state no money. The $500,000 savings mentioned by the bill were ridiculed as inaccurate. But today, a representative of the Secretary of State’s office says in the Advocate that holding a scheduled election will cost the state $3.4 million. Only in Louisiana could canceling an election not possibly save the state $500,000 while at the same time holding an election will cost the state $3.4 million. Assuming, as this suggests, that the rules of mathematics are suspended once you cross the border into Louisiana, the state should have no trouble paying FEMA its $3 billion and overcoming the anticipated hurricane-related state revenue loss of $ 1 billion. And for the record, I fear this means the state bond commission opted to spend $45 million for goat shows, lawn mower races and other "critical projects" instead of on what could have been 13.235 elections (Do the math: $45 m/$3.4m).