…for their unfathomable and craven votes against a review of how taxes are spent in East Baton Rouge Parish. Welch and Loupe were “no” votes on a measure by the Baton Rouge Metro Council’s most reliable fiscal conservative Dwight Hudson Wednesday seeking to take a look at the rates of dedicated taxes in the parish with an eye toward perhaps freeing up some money to be used for priorities like roads.
Metro Council member Dwight Hudson says he is extremely frustrated, though not necessarily surprised, that his resolution to create a committee to examine the budgets and spending of municipal agencies that are funded by dedicated taxes failed at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“The council’s actions speak loud and clear,” Hudson says. “We aren’t serious about understanding how taxpayer money is spent in this parish.”
A substitute measure by Councilmember Tara Wicker also failed. That resolution would also have created a millage review committee but excluded from scrutiny agencies that have been receiving dedicated funding for five years or less, which applies to only the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging and the Bridge Center.
Most of the opposition to Hudson’s proposal Wednesday night came from those who support the CoA. The agency has been wracked by controversy since late 2016, when evidence surfaced it was violating its nonprofit status to campaign for a dedicated tax, which narrowly passed.
The most vocal opponent of Hudson’s measure was Donna Collins-Lewis, who was on the board of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging before or during (we can’t quite remember) the time that agency defrauded the taxpayers of Baton Rouge out of $8 million annually by brazenly violating campaign laws when the dedicated tax to fund it passed in 2016.
“The Council on Aging will always need money,” says Collins-Lewis, a former CoA board member. “They still have a waiting list for their Meals on Wheels. They aren’t sitting around with a whole bunch of money in the bank.”
Still, Collins-Lewis says she thinks some agencies should be more closely examined by the Metro Council, she just doesn’t think there needs to be a formal committee to do so.
The Council on Aging’s budget more than tripled after that tax came in. If they’ve no money in the bank now, then we’d like to see a detailed audit of their books – because it’s being stolen.
That Collins-Lewis would rail against a proposal that would put the EBRCOA’s funding under scrutiny isn’t a surprise. Nor would it be a surprise that the other four Democrats on the Metro Council would vote against such a measure. That funding goes to an organization which at this point is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded get-out-the-vote operation for the Democrat political machine in Baton Rouge. As far as they’re concerned, it’s as indispensable a part of the city-parish budget as anything else – that budget, the way they see it, exists to serve their political needs first, and the EBRCOA funding is atop the priority list.
But the five Democrats on the Metro Council are not the majority. There are seven Republicans out of 12 on that body. The Democrats ought to be consistently outvoted 7-5 on questions involving the proper use of our tax dollars.
And yet when Hudson brings a bill that would examine whether EBRCOA, the CATS bus system no one uses, or the overfunded libraries and parks and recreation departments really need all the tax dollars which are dedicated to them, or whether some of those dollars might be redirected toward more basic needs like the alleviation of the daily traffic snarls in the Baton Rouge area virtually everyone agrees are the single most acute problem in need of addressing, he can’t get a majority.
Welch’s vote is relatively explainable. He wants off the Metro Council and into a district judgeship. One seat on the bench he’s shown he wants is currently filled by Mike Erwin, a Democrat who’s been there forever and who is about to retire after a long career as a no-nonsense “hanging judge” who’s dealt rather harshly with criminals – which partially explains why in 2017 Erwin was enmeshed in a concocted scandal involving allegations of a racist remark to a restaurant patron in a dispute over a seat in the establishment’s crowded bar area. There’s also talk Welch might be running for a civil judgeship in the same district come 2020.
But the judicial district Welch wants to represent on the bench isn’t all that friendly to a Republican. It’s a “swing” judicial district with a sizable percentage of black votes. So Welch, who lost to Erwin 57-43 when the criminal judgeship seat last came up for election in 2014 (it comes back up next year), is trying not to make any votes that will antagonize the voters in that district against his potentially becoming a judge – remembering, of course that his father sat on the judicial bench in Baton Rouge.
Why it is that the taxpayers of Baton Rouge have to accept getting annually screwed so that Trae Welch can feather his nest for a judgeship in 2020 is a question perhaps he ought to be asked. What seems a little simpler is that maybe Welch should just resign his Metro Council seat and spend the next few months focusing on his job as the city prosecutor in Zachary, and then he won’t have icky votes about taxes to dirty him up for that race next year. Considering that Zachary just lost 800 jobs with three plant closings since the first of the year, you’d think Welch would feel some obligation to get the best possible deal for his community out of their now-precious tax dollars, but not so much.
As for Loupe, the reason he’d stick it to his constituents in the southern part of Baton Rouge is less clear. There has been talk for years that Loupe would eventually run for mayor-president, and it would seem that 2020 would be a now-or-never scenario for him to do so. And maybe Loupe is thinking about finally acting on that talk, and didn’t want anything on his record that would make him “controversial.”
Except it’s a little hard to figure out why any of the people who constitute Chandler Loupe’s base of support would be interested in continuing to be his base of support if he can’t even vote for a study of dedicated taxes to see if the money can’t be better distributed to meet the needs of the city-parish. That’s what’s known as being worthless on the Metro Council, so how is that a resume recommending someone for a better job?
One thing we’ll give those five Democrats – they know who elected them to their current position, and they know which way the wind is blowing in their districts, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to sail against that wind. They’re rock-solid reliable votes for that Hard-Left smash-and-grab agenda those voters want and they don’t waver – when they do, they catch the kind of hell Wicker caught when she refused to join them in attempting to deny Denise Amoroso the opportunity to fill her husband’s seat after he died last year.
Can’t say the same for some of the Republicans, who all too often put their own political ambitions over the interests of the folks they represent. That’s something which is going to have to change if Baton Rouge stands any chance of pulling out of the steep decline it’s now entering.