Of the two, the fire tax is easier to swallow. The firefighters have gotten a raw deal over the last thirty years. They didn’t get raises despite a state law that required it.There are a lot of people who would love to consider these millages separately. Arielle Schecter, who habitually puts out terrific voting guides, recommends a NO vote on the combined question.
There are a lot of messy details: interest on that back pay, issues with the pension fund. The City of New Orleans entered into an agreement in October that’s supposed to rectify these long-standing issues. In short, we (the public) owe the firefighters a ton of money. We payed $15 million in January and we owe $60 million more — and that’s just to cover the back pay.
That money has to come from somewhere. This tax would cover it. If the tax doesn’t pass, we have to find the money elsewhere. Other parts of the city budget would probably be cut.
So much for the fire tax. The police tax is a much different beast. The idea is to hire more cops. We currently have about 1,150 officers; this tax would allow us to hire 450 more, a 40% increase.
It sounds simple enough, but it raises a host of questions. Chief among them: how many cops do we really need for a city our size? What is the ideal ratio of cops to people?
As we know, firefighters perform an inarguably useful service to the City and to humanity. As for the police: Well, we're not so convinced. Regardless, politicians need to stop combining this stuff because not only is it confusing to voters - Nobody wants to vote against firefighters - but it's not fair to play further games with firefighter money by linking it to entirely different City service budgets.I see all of that and yet even I would be hesitant to jeopardize the firefighters settlement. It might be Mitch Landrieu’s best achievement in office. I'm not sure I'd want to do anything that might send him back to the negotiating table where he could very well screw it up. Remember, the Legislature is about to take away whatever leverage the firefighters had last time around.