Elections tend to focus on personalities and promises, but there’s also something much larger and more tangible at stake: who gets the power to spend $5 billion of our local money.
While $5 billion may be an eye-popping number, the math behind it is straightforward.
First, we’re electing a new mayor-president who will propose a budget to a new city council and a new parish council that will total approximately $600 million per year.
Second, we’re electing a new school board that will approve a budget totaling about $500 million per year.
Add those numbers up ($1.1 billion), multiply that by four years ($4.4 billion), and then round up to account for likely bond sales to fund capital projects like roads, drainage, schools, a power plant.
In total, the one mayor-president, five city council members, five parish council members and nine school board members we’re electing will decide how $5 billion will be spent in our community over the next four years.
I say “our money” because that’s literally what it is.
Of course, a similar amount of money is at stake in every election when all of these positions are up for grabs. But this year’s election feels particularly momentous.
That’s because of the increasingly divergent priorities of stakeholders in our community.
Some people think local government has too much money; some think it has enough, some think it needs more.
Some think we should be spending more money on libraries; some think we should spend less.
Some think we should be prioritizing drainage above everything else; some think that it’s only one of many priorities.
Some think we desperately need to replace all the temporary classrooms; some think that those classrooms are good enough.
Some think local government should be investing in new major projects like building roads and buildings; some think we need to stop building anything new until we get a handle on maintaining what we already have.
Some think we should be restricting sprawl and incentivizing infill development; some think government should get out of the way and let the market decide where to invest in development.
Navigating the conflicting priorities of local stakeholders is an age-old challenge for politicians. But given the rancor in Lafayette’s political discourse over the past couple of years, as well as the many funding and infrastructure challenges that both LCG and LPSS face, who we elect to be our representatives this year could have an outsized impact on how public dollars are spent moving forward.
That’s at least in part because there’s so much in flux within both of these organizations.
LCG is going to have a new mayor-president, yet all of the m-p candidates agree that we should be splitting this one position back into two: a mayor for the city of Lafayette and a president for the parish of Lafayette. So if they follow through and garner enough support among the councils and the public, this could be the last term where Lafayette has a combined mayor-president.
LCG is also going to be navigating having newly separate city and parish councils. And on top of having to figure out how to get two separate bodies to agree on a single budget, we’re going to have at least five new council members. Theoretically, all 10 could be new.
The stakes are also raised for LPSS. One of the new school board’s first orders of business will be determining if it makes the interim superintendent permanent or searches for a new one.
The reason I wanted to shine a light on the financial significance of this election is because the voting booth is really the only place that we, as citizens, have the opportunity to make a difference in what our local government prioritizes.
Sure we can attend and speak at council and school board meetings. We can call, write and meet with council and school board members. We can attend events and rally our friends. We can write letters to the editor. And we can air our grievances on social media.
But in the end, pretty much all of the decisions about how to spend our money are made by the people we elect. And there are no guarantees they’ll listen to us once they get into office.
Even on matters where we do get to vote — like to approve new taxes, or renew existing ones, or approve new bonds sales for capital projects — they still must all first get the nod from of our elected officials.
So what that means is if you want to have any say in how $5 billion of our money gets spent in our community, you have to get out to vote.
And remember that when you’re doing so, you’re not just picking the person who looks the best on TV or that you’d most want to grab a beer with. What you’re doing with your vote is effectively granting them the power to set our community’s priorities for how billions of dollars get spent.
Voting typically takes less than 10 minutes, but in that time you have the power to impact the future of our community and determine the direction of billions of dollars of our money for years to come.
No excuses. Get out and vote!