Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Let us vote!!!

18th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

This is now getting preposterous.

Jefferson Councilmen Chris Roberts and Elton Lagasse introduced a resolution at Wednesday’s meeting of the suburban parish’s governing body. It asked state legislators to cancel the May 4 referendum on renewing the Crescent City Connection tolls.

Two weeks ago, this newspaper editorialized that the organizers of “Stop the Tolls” recount challenges resembled an effort to count the vote until one got the result he sought — regardless of how the voters decided in the November 6 election.

At least Mike Teachworth and Patrick Hand III ultimately sought another election! In their wildest imaginations, they never suggested that the voters’ should be completely disenfranchised from deciding whether to extend the tolls for 20 years.

Effectively, Roberts and Lagasse, supporters of renewing the $1 passage fee on the CCC, went a step further than the “Stop the Tolls” organizers. The Councilmen think another vote this May is a mistake, mostly because their side might lose. Sotto voce, they ostensibly mutter to the public, “If you don’t vote the way we want, we don’t want you to vote at all.”

And, unfortunately, the entire Jefferson Parish Council unanimously agreed.

Roberts argued at last week’s Regional Planning Commission meeting that he based his motivation to cancel the vote on totally different motives. He just wants the bridge to go dark for a while.

“I think there is so much misinformation out there, the only way we’re going to get an understanding is for the bridge to exist without revenue,’’ Roberts explained, saying that he wants the public to see the level of service provided by transportation department under a toll-free scenario.

Teachworth countered with the query, “Why are two of the most outspoken supporters of the CCC backing away from their support of the tolls now? They suddenly want to concede the entire election? It’s crazy.”

What makes the move to cancel the election especially galling to our Editorial Board was that Hand and Teachworth managed to prove their case. Hundreds of voters appeared at the right polling places on November 6th, only to be handed provisional ballots due to failures by Parish Registrar of Voters in Orleans. They were able to vote for President, but not on local elections — such as the CCC toll renewal.

Roberts’ real motive is money. The CCC collected just over $5 million from motorists from the beginning of the year until Judge William Morvant ordered the tolls suspended on March 5.

Another supporter of the dollar fee, New Orleans City Council President Jackie Clarkson said using that surplus to underwrite expenses amounted to painting a false picture of the reality of bridge finances. She proposed allowing services to revert to diminished levels immediately so residents can “see what it’s like to have no money from now ‘til May.’

“You are telling the people all is well, this will continue to function and it’s not true,” Clarkson maintained.

In other words, extort the voters by turning off the bridge lights, not collecting trash that falls from the rafters, and letting the grass go uncut. Cancel the election to scare the voters into renewing the tolls a year from now.

What none of the Councilpersons seemed to remember however is that enough money remains to fund all of the above services for a period of three years, according RPC staff. Fortunately, at the same meeting, Jefferson Parish President John Young proved a voice of sanity. Young countered that it is “irresponsible’’ of officials to allow the lights to go dark when the original state legislation designates a transition fund to pay for it.

The DOTD has the responsibility to pay for all the bridge operations—excepting lighting—as they do in other high trafficked Mississippi crossings, like Baton Rouge. But anxiety over whether the State Department of Transportation and Development would refuse to fund the bridge in future years MUST NOT lead to canceling this May’s referendum.

As Hand put it succinctly in a statement in the wake of the Council vote, “…’We just got an entire election overturned because voters were disenfranchised. Now these Councilmen want to disenfranchise their own constituents all over again.”

This article originally published in the March 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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