With due regard for the independence and vast powers of the Metropolitan Council of East Baton Rouge Parish, maybe there are lessons they could learn about getting their ducks in a row when it comes to taxes.
One such lesson was the loss in Jefferson Parish of a school property tax on Saturday.
The board sought a big increase, more than 8 mills, and Jefferson is a tough jurisdiction for property taxes. It’s the home turf of the Chehardys, advocates of the bloated homestead exemption; the younger Chehardy was appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards to the state Tax Commission, supposed to oversee assessors. Fox, meet henhouse.
But political conditions were more favorable, as it was a low-turnout election date and funding pay raises motivates school workers to get out the vote. Still, the School Board was divided on the tax proposition, although most members voted to put it on the ballot. They agreed generally on the need for more support for schools but were deeply divided over issues of timing, and dimensions of the millage.
Every place and election is different, but when Metro Council members offer a proposal for an 8-mill increase for police salaries in the city limits of Baton Rouge, maybe they should take Jefferson as a cautionary tale. It should be a popular cause but passage requires organization and, to use the mayor-president's favorite word, unity.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she would think about it, but noted it’s a lot of money. Council members failed to back her roads plan this year, refusing to put a 5-mill proposal on the ballot; another council member has pushed a tax for mental health services.
Honestly, can anyone argue that any of those things are not needed? We need road repairs and some capacity expansions desperately; police start at less than $33,000 a year, not very much for the Lord’s work that they do; a mental health initiative would help reduce inmates with problems in the expensive Parish Prison, saving people money in the long run.
And yet if there is general agreement on priorities there are questions of timing and dimensions. Divisions among the parish’s leaders, elected and civic, simply can’t be papered over and priorities like a mental health initiative can easily compete with a police pay raise, even if they are complementary in improving public safety. There are only so many mills that will pass at one time.
That the council members feel free to push their ideas, and shot down Broome’s traffic propositions in a town with enormous road problems, suggests that there is hardly the unity of purpose among the electeds that is needed, although perhaps one can conclude that the mayor’s standing with the council is not that high. One can only imagine how former Mayor-President Kip Holden would have reacted to such Metro Council freelancing.
Broome has been trying to forge a closer relationship with members, meeting individually or in small groups to talk about next year’s standstill budget. But keeping the wheels turning, and driving an eighteen-wheeler up tax hill are different things.
Further, where is the broad-based community support that can and should be built for tax proposals? The community meetings sponsored for the road tax, briefings with roads director Fred Raiford, were a boring bust in terms of public opinion.
If the elected leaders don’t get their ducks in a row, they won’t even begin to attract the support for a successful tax proposition in today’s environment.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.