Isn’t It Time Baton Rouge’s Elite Start Making Their Peace With St. George?

You’d think that’s a message which would start to resonate after yesterday’s events at the Louisiana Legislature, in which an entirely inappropriate and obnoxious bill by Sen. Yvonne Colomb, who thankfully will be gone from the Senate next year due to term limits, seeking to remove the St. George incorporation from the hands of those living in St. George and make it a parish-wide ballot item in East Baton Rouge, was killed in the Senate’s Local And Municipal Affairs Committee.

But so far we don’t see much indication that the Powers That Be in East Baton Rouge Parish are getting the message.

City of St. George incorporation proponents had a successful day at the Legislature, as two bills heard in a Senate committee this afternoon both went their way.

Not only did a bill enabling a parishwide incorporation vote fail to move out of committee, but legislation that would create a St. George transition district, if incorporated, was amended and approved by the committee.

The amendment to SB 229, if approved, requires St. George, should it become a city, to be liable for its proportionate share of parish unfunded liabilities, including pension and retirement debt.

St. George organizers praised the decision to not allow a parishwide vote on the incorporation, criticizing it as a last-minute rule change to kill the effort. Current law calls for the vote to be held within the proposed city limits. Still, proponents acknowledge the fight is far from over.

“They said they have a lawsuit ready (in the committee hearing),” says St. George spokesman Andrew Murrell. “It’s sad that they plan to use parish tax dollars to sue parish citizens over their right to vote.”

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who opposes St. George and supported the parishwide vote legislation—SB 63—at the hearing, wouldn’t comment on whether the city-parish would file a lawsuit, but says “we will continue to look at all options as we move forward.”

“I’m disappointed that all citizens of East Baton Rouge Parish will not have an opportunity to vote on an issue that significantly impacts them fiscally and otherwise,” Broome told Daily Report after the hearing. “I view that as taxation without representation. It won’t dictate the outcome. I’m just trying to promote a democratic process.”

Broome’s argument is characteristically stupid; it’s akin to saying that since tax and industrial policy in Texas and Florida are having an economic effect on Louisiana by enabling them to steal jobs and capital from us that Louisianans should therefore be able to vote in Texas and Florida elections.

That she’s making it is fairly predictable. Sharon Weston Broome hasn’t had an original thought or made a well-conceived argument in her life.

What’s unfortunate, though also predictable, is that the Baton Rouge Area Chamber came out in support of SB 63 at the committee hearing. That’s nothing new – BRAC has been opposed to St. George, despite the fair likelihood of the new city being a decent economic development driver for East Baton Rouge Parish (if nothing else there is a decent reason to believe that it would help to hold middle-class residents inside East Baton Rouge Parish rather than see them continue to escape to Livingston and Ascension), since the beginning.

And it’s been stupid from the beginning. A year ago we addressed this issue and noted there is an obviously preferable approach to playing Winged Monkeys for Mayor Broome as Adam Knapp and his people at BRAC have chosen…

Let’s face it – BRAC has no stroke at City Hall anymore. Broome isn’t like her predecessor Kip Holden, who gave BRAC its contract as the city-parish’s economic development arm and included the organization in his strategic plans. To the extent Broome even has strategic plans beyond redistributing wealth from South Baton Rouge to North Baton Rouge, it’s clear BRAC isn’t involved in those.

So why toe her party line? Politically that’s dumb. If Broome isn’t going to listen to BRAC and work with the organization on its priorities, then BRAC’s best play is to remain agnostic about St. George – or even better, to attempt to play a constructive role in the new city’s development as a potential economic asset to the capital region. “If you’re going to do this, consider these options and these concerns” would be the way to handle it. That wouldn’t mean BRAC was supporting St. George; what it would mean is BRAC is staying out of the politics of the issue and instead attempting to work toward solutions given whatever circumstances were to arise.

Like business people, rather than political activists, do. BRAC is supposed to be a business organization, isn’t it?

Taking the position BRAC has taken means that if St. George happens, and it’s going to happen in all likelihood, though not until months and years of lawsuits and political wrangling have torn East Baton Rouge Parish to shreds, St. George will want nothing to do with BRAC – at least not given its current leadership. You’re almost certainly going to see a St. George Chamber of Commerce spring up and it will be rabidly critical of BRAC. Given that Louisiana Economic Development has appointed BRAC as the economic development entity for the whole capital region, that is a major mess waiting to happen.

Part of this problem is the half-million dollars or so a year that BRAC is paid by the city-parish to be its economic development arm, a paltry sum to so corrupt an organization whose credibility ought to depend on its independence as a chamber of commerce is supposed to be.

But part of it is just a tin ear on the part of Knapp and the BRAC board. At this point they can’t claim to represent the entire Baton Rouge area business community without being laughed out of the room. It wouldn’t be a surprise if you heard of a St. George Chamber of Commerce popping up next week; in fact, St. George needs to stand up a Chamber as soon as they can.

Because there will be a St. George.

Yes, the lawsuit that the ancient Mary Olive Pierson told the committee would be coming, though she said she was just talking as a private citizen and definitely not Sharon Weston Broome’s lawyer, will be filed, and yes, it will be Pierson who files it, and yes, if that lawsuit ends up in front of Janice Clark, Wilson Fields or Trudy White it will result in a judicial hold on this fall’s St. George incorporation vote.

But none of those things are going to stop the incorporation of this new city in East Baton Rouge Parish. The vote will eventually be had. And when that vote happens, the people living there will vote yes – in overwhelming numbers.

That was perhaps always going to be true. But it’s certain now – and it’s Broome and Knapp and the rest of the ruling class in town who have made it certain with their nonstop tone-deaf opposition.

By insisting that St. George will have to raise taxes to survive when their own numbers show that St. George would run a surplus, they’ve destroyed their credibility on taxes.

By caterwauling about the hole a St. George incorporation would blow through the city-parish budget, they’ve thrown gasoline on a fire already burning in St. George over the perception those residents’ tax dollars are being redistributed outside of their area.

And by screeching that St. George won’t be able to meet the needs of the public school children residing there, when those needs are currently not being met by East Baton Rouge’s failing school system and when an independent school district is a separate fight from a municipal incorporation – something which is the case thanks to the Baton Rouge ruling class demanding that St. George form its own city before such a school district could be constructed – they’ve made it clear they don’t give a damn about the people living in what is to be St. George.

There has always been a “let them eat cake” character to the anti-St. George movement. That attitude is now reaping what it has sown.

It’s time for the adults, if there are any, to take over, and for Broome and her minions to begin working on an orderly transition to the new city’s existence.

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