It was really something to see, but perhaps the Republicans on the Baton Rouge Metro Council have been burned one time too many with respect to tax proposals they’ve forwarded to the public only to have them result in debacles. The CATS tax was one example – it resulted in an $18 million annual slush fund slathered on a completely corrupt and incompetently-run bus system. Then there was the incredibly bad Council on Aging tax, which dropped $8 million per year on a crooked political machine the worst of the city’s corrupt ward heelers have plugged into. And of course the library tax, which has resulted in Baton Rouge having beautiful and empty libraries full of books the public school kids can’t read.
At some point the spigot will run dry, and it appears that’s what happened yesterday evening.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s first proposed tax package sputtered and crashed Wednesday when the Better Transportation and Roads plan lost its shot at appearing on the Nov. 18 ballot.
Broome’s bid to build more than 40 infrastructure projects to alleviate traffic congestion, synchronize traffic lights and pave sidewalks crumbled Wednesday on a 5-5 Metro Council vote that was 2 votes short of the 7 needed to put the proposal on the ballot.
Some Metro Council members said they have been bombarded with messages from constituents who opposed a new property tax addressing transportation when drainage and public safety concerns have come to the forefront in Baton Rouge.
This thing was going to siphon some $15 million per year out of property owners’ wallets, and it was the baby of Ken Naquin, the CEO of the state Association of General Contractors. That would be the same Ken Naquin who, after a different tax hike proposal to fund road construction failed in the state legislature, let loose an e-mail fusillade for the ages alienating pretty much everybody he’d need support from in the future. We’ll be anxious to see if this defeat causes Naquin to react similarly. Naquin’s argument at the Metro Council was that he has the right to vote and not to pass the proposal to the ballot was tantamount to denying him that right. Needless to say that wasn’t persuasive.
The realtors opposed the tax because they argued you don’t use property taxes to fund roads; that’s what gas taxes are for. Problem is, state law forbids local gas taxes, something AGC should have been working to change in this past legislative session.
Meanwhile, there was this marvelous quote from the mayor-president after her tax hike went down in flames…
“Of course I’m disappointed that the BTR plan was not allowed to be on the ballot for people to vote on it,” Broome said in an interview after the vote. “But I’m very proud of the work we’ve done because, you know, leadership means that you come up with some bold and innovative ideas, and that’s what we did with the BTR plan.”
Shocking that she couldn’t convince a majority of the Metro Council, right?
Surprisingly, Gary Chambers was on the winning side of this fight – though his reasoning for opposing it was fairly predictable and included an exhortation that if the city would shower money on black entrepreneurs (to do what, he wasn’t overly clear), they’d hire young black men and stop them from murdering each other, or something.
Chambers’ complaints, and others to the effect that the plan didn’t include enough minority set-asides, didn’t prevent any of the Democrats on the council from voting against it. One, Chauna Banks, walked out on the vote, as did Republican Chandler Loupe. Meanwhile there was one Republican who crossed over to support the plan – Barbara Freiburg, who seems incapable of voting against a tax of any kind.
Time and again voters in East Baton Rouge Parish have said they’d very much like to see more roads built in the parish. But what they want isn’t more tax money thrown at the problem but rather to have current public dollars redirected to transportation infrastructure as a priority. Here’s an interesting graph from our buddy Chris Rials…
Every sector of city-parish spending has grown BUT transportation, which is a good indication of the low priority given to roads – so it’s not surprising that Baton Rouge has bad-ass libraries nobody can get to because traffic is so terrible. Here’s another graph from Rials showing even more starkly how badly the roads have been neglected…
Another way to say this is the taxpayers in the parish want the bloated city-parish government to pay for road improvements – not the taxpayers, who are already paying for them and getting screwed instead. It’s not a particular surprise there is no trust left for Broome to exploit, and if she had recognized that and begun to reprioritize transportation within the current budget first, perhaps she wouldn’t have so much egg on her face from yesterday’s failure.