Tuesday, February 21, 2006




The French monarch Louis XIV, the man for whom Louisiana is named, is famous for the assertion, “L’état c’est moi,” which translates as “I am the state.” It was the king’s view, in other words, that his personal interest and the public interest were always one and the same.

If the recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature is any indication, it seems that political philosophy is alive and well in the state that bears Louis XIV’s name.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster in American history, the tax base of New Orleans is decimated, and its local government is living hand-to-mouth. We’ve gone to Washington with tin cup in hand to make the case that the Crescent City and Louisiana can’t afford to rebuild without federal help.

Given these dire circumstances, Gov. Kathleen Blanco argued that the time was right to reform New Orleans’ bloated bureaucracy of elected officials.

A Blanco-backed bill by House Speaker Joe Salter would have consolidated the city’s network of two elected sheriffs, two elected clerks of court and two court systems into one of each. In a related bill, Salter also proposed slashing the number of elected property tax assessors in New Orleans from seven to one.

The legislation got nowhere, thanks to lawmakers such as Reps. Jeff Arnold and Alex Heaton, two New Orleans Democrats whose close relatives, perhaps not coincidentally, are New Orleans assessors.

Heaton, Arnold and other New Orleans lawmakers attacked the proposal to consolidate assessors as an intrusion into the city’s affairs, saying that the city’s assessment system is two centuries old.

In other words, let’s keep doing something, however illogical and self-serving, just because it’s always been done that way.

That’s just the kind of thinking that hampered New Orleans before Katrina, and unless that attitude changes, the city — and the state at large — are destined for more outmigration and mediocrity.

Eventually, Salter got some streamlining initiatives for New Orleans government out of the House, but Blanco and Salter scrapped the push for the legislation after concluding that it would face a hostile reception in the Senate Local and Municipal Affairs Committee.

“The state is me” might have worked fine for Louis IV, but after his death, the people of France got tired of that kind of political arrogance and staged a revolution.

Maybe it’s time for the people of Louisiana to follow suit.

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