With 75 bridges to be replaced, and miles of canals to be dredged, it would be impossible for Mayor-President Kip Holden to list in a single speech every project he wants done with a new tax proposal.
But it seemed as if he would try before the Press Club of Baton Rouge, going bridge by bridge needing replacement and down a long list of subdivisions that would benefit from major drainage improvements.
Strikingly, the majority on the Metro Council voted not even to hold a hearing on the mayor’s proposal, so that at this time it has no clear path to the ballot.
The problem with the council’s vote is that the council did not even take the time to talk about the real needs that make up Holden’s list.
Long as it is, the mayor’s list ought to be discussed, as one of the hallmarks of Baton Rouge’s government has been decades of failure to pay for public works.
In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the public was overwhelmed by traffic and voted for the Holden proposal to build overdue road improvements. But the idea of a bond issue for comprehensive public works - which hasn’t been successful in almost 50 years, Holden said - has been a tough sell. The Metro Council vote is a reflection of that political problem, as well as Holden’s questionable decisions in his relationships with council members and other leaders in the parish.
Still, there’s no question that the mayor has responded to criticism of the original proposal by reducing its size, including eliminating a downtown riverfront theme park. And he said voters will face, if the Metro Council agrees eventually to put the plan on the ballot, separate proposals for public works, law enforcement projects and an economic development component to expand the River Center.
In earlier versions of the bond proposal, we questioned the wisdom of some of the projects on the list. However much one might do so, there is no question that the list involves legitimate public works - nothing fancy, you might say.
And it’s a long list, as Holden’s Press Club talk illustrated.
Why do we focus so much on the mayor’s list?
Because his critics don’t want to.
“Raising taxes right now is not the way to go,” said Councilman Scott Wilson, one of the nine Metro Council members voting to block consideration of the tax and bond proposal. “Especially, when you’re bringing it to us at the last minute, when you’ve had this bond issue twice, and people have voted against it.”
If objecting to taxes is a reasonable test for this bond issue or any other, there is no need for an election; most of us don’t enjoy paying taxes. And we don’t know anyone who can’t voice some criticism of government spending, although it’s usually something that benefits somebody else and not the critic.
Nor is there anything “last minute” about the need for a new jail, drainage projects, bridge replacements, a new police station - on and on.
We won’t repeat the mayor’s list, and we’re certainly not prepared to endorse it without another good look at the details. But we are frustrated by the inability of elected officials to focus on the need for improved public facilities. The mayor is focusing here on pressing needs.
That’s the important issue.
What the taxes would buy is important, and no one can reasonably say that big capital projects can be funded without borrowing.
Holden’s list-making might not make headlines, or provide easy material for speeches. But his list makes a powerful argument on its own.