It’s soon going to be time for the organizers of the St. George incorporation effort to turn in their petition and start the wheels in motion for a vote on creating a new city in the unincorporated parts of southern East Baton Rouge Parish, and that means it’s also time for the opponents of that effort to ramp up their screeches of impending doom should the city be born.
Efforts to block the movement to create a new city of St. George ramped up Monday night as leaders of the opposition hosted a town hall meeting to disseminate what they call more fact-based analyses of how the proposed city would negatively impact East Baton Rouge Parish and the city of Baton Rouge.
Taking some credit for helping stop the effort from moving forward more than two years ago, the leader behind Better Together/Residents Against the Breakaway said the organization is prepared to take the same measures that were successful last time, which included making withdrawal forms available to anyone who wants to remove their name from the petition seeking to place the St. George breakaway on the ballot.
“The main difference this time, of course, is the time clock. We’re in a hurry up and wait phase,” M.E. Cormier said in an interview after the meeting. “We’re in the last 60 days of the outstanding petition and we wanted to do everything we possibly can to disseminate as much information to the public as possible.”
The opponents of the St. George drive spoke about how much property taxes would increase if the proposed city becomes a reality.
“… it would 100 percent result in a tax increase for both sides of this imaginary line — a significant tax increase,” Cormier said.
She told the crowd of a few dozen people that residents within the proposed St. George city limits would also face major cuts to public services like police and fire protection, the proposed city would displace 3,800 students from their current schools and create immediate school capacity issues in portions of the southeast part of the parish.
None of those arguments are new, and none of them are particularly persuasive.
The fact is, it’s unlikely the Better Together gang can stop St. George this time. Changes in state law make it a lot more difficult to engage in the kind of corrupt manipulation of this petition that the Baton Rouge political class practiced on the previous one, in which the parish Registrar of Voters threw out signatures on an almost willy-nilly basis until knocking the petition below its required number of signatures and then having corrupt state district judge Wilson Fields deny a writ of mandamus filed by the St. George organizers on a procedural basis. This time the Secretary of State’s office will play a larger oversight role, and it’s also expected the state’s Attorney General’s office will be involved in an effort to sort out whatever legal issues might otherwise be raised in an effort to block a vote of the people.
And the 2018 version of the St. George petition has a much lower bar to clear based on the new map of the proposed city. It has 20,000 fewer people, and therefore some 5,000 fewer entries required on the petition, than needed back in 2015 – and the neighborhoods cut from the new map were those in which very few residents signed the 2015 petition. The organizers needed only to sign up all the die-hard supporters from 2015 to meet and exceed the necessary number. Our information is they’ve already done it, and what’s left before the petition is turned in is merely to pad the statistics so that political machinations can’t deny a vote this time.
Given all of this, and given the fact that Democrat political consultant Michael Beychok has been paid a king’s ransom by the Baton Rouge political mob to run a nonprofit called One Baton Rouge aimed at messaging against the St. George incorporation, and Beychok has to show his donors some deliverables, don’t be surprised to see more and more shrill warnings about how St. George will (1) be a non-viable fiscal failure and (2) gut the finances of city-parish government. Never once, though, will those shrill warnings explain how both of those contentions can be simultaneously true, which is why they won’t be persuasive to many.
St. George is going to happen this time. It might be delayed by a string of lawsuits, but it’s going to happen.