Inside Jeff Parish



School Board Appeals to Voters
Last week, in a 9-0 vote, the Jefferson Parish School Board approved a half-cent increase in the Jefferson Parish sales tax. This increase will have to be approved by parish voters in an election set for July 20. If passed, the tax increase will raise $35 million for the Jefferson Parish school system. However, this increase will also raise sales taxes in Jefferson Parish to 9 1/4 cents, above the level in Orleans Parish.

No doubt, opponents will emerge before the election, but they were not apparent at the school board meeting last week. The board meeting was packed with Jefferson Parish public school teachers, who along with support personnel, will benefit if this measure passes. Teachers will receive a $2,000 raise, and the salaries of support personnel will increase by $750.

According to Jefferson Parish School Board member Judy Colgan, this tax increase is crucial to retain and attract teachers. "We must be competitive," she says. "In order to do so, we need to provide more funding for teacher's salaries."

In addition to salary increases, the new revenue will be used to cover premium increases in the state health plan for Jefferson Parish teachers. Last year, the Louisiana Legislature passed a bill requiring the school board to pay for these increases and prohibited the board from recouping the money from employees. The cost of premium increases was $5 million last year, with projections that it will continue to rise each year.

The sales tax increase will also allow the school board to provide librarians in every school, improve foreign language studies and start an alternative school for troubled youth on the West Bank.

In the latest overall ranking of Louisiana public school systems, the Jefferson Parish School system ranked 43rd out of 66. This reflects an improvement from last year's standing at 47th, but certainly not enough to satisfy Colgan, who says she looks forward to continued improvement.

One interesting aspect of the school board's tax hike vote is that Jefferson Parish voters are often reluctant to approve a tax increase and often do not look fondly on politicians who vote for such increases. The board voted to put this measure on the July 20 ballot, a few months before all members have to face re-election in October. In Colgan's view, the vote was the right thing to do, "I think it's courageous of us to do this now," she says. "If we're going to do our jobs, we needed to do this, regardless of elections."

We'll see in July and October whether the voters agree.

Perkins Looks at Senate Race
After receiving encouragement from key Republicans in Louisiana and Washington D.C., State Rep. Tony Perkins of Baton Rouge is now seriously looking at entering the U.S. Senate race this fall against incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and current Republican challenger Congressman John Cooksey.

Perkins has served in the Louisiana Legislature since 1996 and is considered to be one of the rising stars in the Louisiana Republican Party. He is a strong social conservative and a favorite among statewide evangelicals. He managed the 1996 Senate campaign of Woody Jenkins, but is viewed as less controversial than Jenkins.

Perkins is also known as a strong fiscal conservative. In the current legislative session, he is sponsoring bills to eliminate all corporate income and franchise taxes as a way of spurring business development in Louisiana. He also has a considerable media background with experience as a television news director and commentator.

Perkins says that he will decide in the next few days whether to run for the Senate after gauging support from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. One Republican insider confided that many RNC leaders are disappointed in Cooksey's campaign and are encouraging other candidates to enter the race. Cooksey's campaign has been marked by controversial comments, such as the infamous "diaper" remark and his recent claim that PLO leader Yassir Arafat is suffering from dementia. Recent polls have shown Cooksey to be far behind Landrieu.

Another potential candidate is Louisiana Elections Commissioner Suzanne Haik Terrell, who is also highly regarded in Republican circles. Some RNC strategists hope that multiple candidates will enter the race to force Landrieu into a December run-off in which voter turnout will be lighter and supposedly more favorable for a Republican challenger.

Vitter Faces Hurdle
1st Congressional District incumbent Republican David Vitter will have trouble receiving the endorsement of the Jefferson Parish Republican Party in his bid for reelection, according to a local insider.

In his 1999 race for Congress, Vitter did not receive the party's endorsement and now that the Jefferson Party Republican Party is led by John Treen, brother of former Vitter opponent Gov. Dave Treen, the endorsement could be even more difficult to secure. The endorsement vote will probably occur in early September, after qualifying is over.

Currently, Vitter has one announced opponent, radio talk show host Robert Namer. For weeks, Namer has been campaigning across the district in his brand new motor home plastered with his campaign logo. He also is assembling his campaign team, which will include respected phone bank expert Betty Thibodaux.

Thibodaux's hiring shows that Namer is willing to spend serious money on the race. The major questions now are whether other candidates like Monica Monica will enter the race and whether Vitter nemesis Gov. Mike Foster will publicly campaign or help raise funds for one of Vitter's opponents.

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