Holden points to Green Light Plan road improvements in East Baton Rouge Parish as one of his proudest accomplishments as mayor-president _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Looking west on Pecue Lane as that traffic travels eastbound with I-10 west traffic zipping through on the down low.

There's no one thing that can be blamed for Saturday's overwhelming rejection by East Baton Rouge Parish voters of all but one tax proposition on the ballot.

Local political analysts on Monday shared a list of contributing factors: a U.S. Senate race that attracted more older, white, conservative voters, a ballot overpopulated with tax propositions, residents in outlying communities who feel disenfranchised by city-parish government's downtown Baton Rouge focus, and households still struggling to recover after August's devastating floods.

"Taxes in East Baton Rouge are not easy to pass. There's a huge divide in the community and every poll shows it," said Bernie Pinsonat, a Baton Rouge-based pollster and political consultant. 

"I just think it was tax fatigue," said John Couvillon, another Baton Rouge-based pollster. "It was unwise for the Metro Council to approve multiple tax increases on the ballot at the same time."

Voters shot down four of Saturday's five tax proposals. Those defeats put a sobering halt to many of the ambitious plans parish leaders had for the revenue those taxes would have generated.

One of the defeats involved a 10-year, 1.5-mill property tax that would have generated $5.8 million annually for a 30-bed mental health facility offering drug rehabilitation services and psychiatric care. The tax revenue would have also funded a crisis response team partnering with police to evaluate potential patients in the field. 

The mental health tax was narrowly rejected by 51 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results from the Louisiana Secretary of State's Office. 

The proposed facility's executive director, Rob Reardon, said the setback only delays plans, but doesn't mean the project won't come to fruition. Officials now have to figure out how they're going to pay for it. 

"We're kind of in the re-grouping phase right now," Reardon said Monday. "We're going to look at other alternatives like grants. We think the need in the community is still there." 

The two-pronged tax proposals that would have funded the expansion of the city-parish's road-building and transportation infrastructure efforts through the second phase of the Green Light Plan also reached a dead end Saturday. 

A two-pronged Green Light Plan tax plan requiring voter approval of both proposals went down when 53 percent agreed to rededicate revenue from the plan's half-cent sales tax, but the same percentage voted against a new 5-mill property tax tied to the second phase of the project. 

In her first news conference as mayor-president-elect, Sharon Weston Broome said she was disappointed by the failure of the Green Light propositions.

"We cannot do another tax measure in 2017, but that's the good thing about having community input," she said. "I don't know what were the causes behind the failure of the Green Light Plan 2, but I certainly think it merits discussion with the citizens of our community to see if we get back on track with it."

City-parish Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel said passage of the sales tax rededication while the property tax proposal failed shows that voters did not understand the dual package. The city-parish held multiple public meetings about the proposals in every Metro Council district, but floods interrupted the meeting schedules.

The city-parish has used all of its bonding capacity for Green Light Plan projects, but those outlined in the original plan from 2005 should still be completed by 2030, Daniel said. They are all in a pay-as-you-go phase, which slows down their progress.

Projects already under way or set to begin soon include: adding lanes and sidewalks to O'Neal Lane; creating a Perkins Road-Picardy Avenue connector; improving the Nicholson Drive/Brightside Lane intersection; and adding a lane, sidewalks and bike lanes to Glen Oaks Drive. Construction of a Pecue Lane/Interstate 10 interchange is also scheduled to begin in 2018.

"It will continue, but it will not continue in the way we had hoped," Daniel said.

The failed 5-mill tax would have generated more than $600 million over the next 10 years. Some of the projects expected to have been funded by it included widening Lee Drive, Hoo Shoo Too Road and Mickens Road.

Daniel said most traffic engineers would agree on the need for the capacity projects included in the failed Green Light tax, and that the city-parish "really, really missed an opportunity" to build sidewalks and quality of life road improvements in neighborhoods.

Voters also nixed the city-parish's proposed additional 2-percent hotel occupancy tax, which was estimated to bring in about $2.6 million a year. Visit Baton Rouge would have split the money 50/50 with the Raising Cane's River Center. The proposal was rejected by 51 percent of the vote. 

Visit BR hoped to use that money to help the city-parish with several obligations it made to attract high-profile events to the city. And the River Center intended to use the surplus in funds on renovations and upgrades to the downtown complex.  

The only successful tax proposal on the East Baton Rouge ballot was the additional 2 percent hotel tax on occupants who stay in hotels within the North Baton Rouge Economic Development District. Only voters who lived within the economic district's boundaries could cast ballots on the proposal, approving it by 55 percent.

"This was a tax that benefited them specifically so they were for it," Pinsonat said. "These big taxes that come from downtown groups that are supposed to help everyone, people don't believe that. Most people in their part of the parish don't feel their communities are being taken care of."  

Pinsonat also called attention to the 37 percent voter turnout for the parishwide propositions. That percentage was mostly made up of senior citizens on fixed incomes who are generally against new taxes. He called the scenario "chronic voter turnout."

In his analysis of election results, Couvillon theorized apathy among black voters was largely responsible for Saturday's outcome as well. Black precincts that typically supported past tax measures by 70 to 80 percent margins only supported Saturday's parishwide tax proposals within a 50 percent margin. 

"I don't think these downtown groups and elected officials did a good job of selling these proposals," he said. "(Kip) Holden did an excellent job selling the first phase of the Green Light Plan in 2005. If voters aren't educated about a tax before going to the polls, they typically aren't going to support them."

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.