CONROY: Baton Rouge Bus Tax Proposal Lacks Accountability, Vision

I wanted to take a few minutes of your time to explain my position on the CATS tax proposal in East Baton Rouge Parish, to be voted on in an April 21 election. Many are taking the position that a “NO” Vote is a vote against our civic responsibility to provide transportation for the poor.

I think that argument is ridiculous.

I am not in favor of the CATS tax for a multitude of reasons, none of which have anything to do with avoiding my civic duty and obligation to help the poor. I firmly believe that an efficient and modern mass transit system is a staple of any progressive city and would improve the quality of life for many in Baton Rouge. I recognize how important our bus system is to the hard-working Baton Rouge citizens who depend upon it. However, I am not convinced the current CATS proposal is the best option to create a more efficient and modern mass transit system or ensure the highest accountability or transparency.

Currently, CATS is accountable to the Metro Council for funding and operational issues. A key component to this proposal changes the reporting structure from the Metro Council to an independent board accountable to no one.

CATS, currently has an annual budget of $12 million and this tax proposal would increase their annual budget to $30 million for ten years. Why do they need an additional $18 million per year for ten more years? What are they going to spend it on and how much does it cost? As a citizen of East Baton Rouge Parish, businessman and investor I want to see a viable business plan, budget projections and Use of Proceeds Statements detailing how funds will be spent. I haven’t seen any of that information other than references to organizational websites and promises to add routes, terminals and reduce wait times.

Has CATS looked internally to create operating efficiencies before asking for a tax increase? Significant cost savings can be achieved by converting the existing fleet from diesel to natural gas. The national average for natural gas is less than $2.25 per gallon compared to diesel which exceeds $4.00/gal.  As quoted from NVG America:

Engine urban and greenhouse gas emissions are inherently lower than from gasoline or diesel engines.
Natural gas decreases our reliance on foreign fuel sources (more than 98% of the natural gas used in the US comes from North America)
Natural gas costs less per energy unit than gasoline or diesel.
Has CATS looked at outsourcing to a private company? Private companies may be able to provide better service for less cost because of the economies of scale related to combined purchasing power and employee benefits. This represents a significant portion of a company’s overhead.

The proposal should have incorporated a light rail component to attract more riders. Design a light rail system around large employers like the State, City Government, Exxon, Dow, and the Airport and run it to various destinations like Denham Springs, Prairieville, Baker-Central-Zachary areas, Mall of Louisiana, etc. Use shuttle vans and buses to move customers to destinations not serviced by the trains.

The point being, you are building a transit system that could be utilized by more people and thus secure a revenue stream outside of taxes. Can you envision picking up a train in Denham Springs, Prairieville, or the Mall of Louisiana and riding it to downtown for a night of fun, without the hassle of driving, parking or driving home after a few drinks? That could be an economic boon for everyone.

If this proposal truly is about providing a “strong backbone” for the city-parish, then why isn’t the entire parish participating in the election process? Unfortunately, that is not the case and I was not allowed to cast my vote on Saturday. I was told I lived on the wrong side of Jefferson Highway.

The property tax implications speak for themselves. The tax increase is outrageous for the benefit we will receive.

Does our mass transit system need reform and improvement…ABSOLUTELY, because Baton Rouge Matters! But in my opinion, this proposal does not accomplish the objectives we need to improve mass transit. I fear, at the end of the day, all we will have accomplished is the expansion of a broken system into a BIGGER broken system with no accountability.

John Conroy is a husband, father, businessman and fiscal conservative running for Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish. John hasSpent more than twenty years in the Heathcare industry as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Executive Officer of several hospitals, including Renaissance Rehab Hospital in Baton Rouge. John founded Pestop “Your Do-It-Yourself Pest Control Solution” in 1993, which has grown into one of the largest retail enterprises of professional pest control products in the south with five locations in Louisiana. As Mayor-President, John wants to lead Baton Rouge to the next level with common sense solutions. Learn more about John Conroy on his website at www.JohnConroyBR.com.

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