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Broderick Bagert, lead organizer of Together Baton Rouged, speaks during a discussion of the costs of industrial tax exemptions for East Baton Rouge Parish, at TBR's monthly luncheon at the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY TRAVIS SPRADLING

However much one can enjoy a mudslinging political debate, the battle over industrial tax breaks that's broken out between the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Together Baton Rouge provides an unusual amusement.

After all, are not these actors supposed to be leaders and not dividers? The Chamber argues often for dispassionate public policy that advances the whole community, not just businesses. TBR takes on clerical garb in its statements and support for public services that have often been left on the backburner by Baton Rouge's leadership for decades.

No, BRAC declared, the community organization "used these confusing (tax policy) circumstances as an opportunity to inject its anti-business ideology into local political bodies and the communities they serve. The organization masks its divisive and abrasive tactics behind a veil of 'community awareness' advocacy."

Bullying has become almost a liberal code word in school debates, and two BRAC officials deployed it in their anti-business accusations. As is common in heated disputes, BRAC found a single flyer of unknown provenance it cited as a threat against funding for Ascension schools and other ballot propositions. As if anti-tax conservatives haven't done the same thing, over and again — in fact, against BRAC positions in some Baton Rouge debates.

Political Horizons: Louisiana tax exemption costs about to become public

Together BR's congregations — and others outside the capital region in Together Louisiana — have since tried to calm the waters. "We’re concerned about the state of our relationship," a TBR statement said. "We want to do what we can to improve it and hope BRAC will consider doing the same."

Leave aside for the moment the immediate issue of industrial tax exemptions, a decades-old gift of tax dollars to big business. Until reforms advanced by TBR and Gov. John Bel Edwards, it was a corporate welfare program, indefensibly administered by state government without any regard for the economic consequences for local governments and schools.

Maybe BRAC's heated rhetoric has something to do with a weak case? But there's also a case to be made that the confusion from the governor's 2016 order was bad for business — and that TBR has pushed its cause with scant regard for these operational difficulties. Passion among volunteers also is difficult for anyone in public life to moderate and manage. But it's also intellectually hard to take seriously a property tax reform debate that does not touch on the homestead exemption, which is three times that in Texas and vastly higher than in most other states; that also starves local governments of needed revenues.

All that said, the realities are that on the Baton Rouge local scene, BRAC and TBR are often enough on the same page. Given anti-tax sentiment, in a parish and a state where the tax burden is among the lowest in the nation, progress has to come from local tax increases to pay for ever-rising costs of roads, schools, drainage and the like.

BRAC's member businesses are dependent on progress. We're not going to get that in Baton Rouge without an active and engaged business community, and we're not going to win the vital local elections to fund progress without boots on the ground — or rather, the sneakers on the sidewalks of TBR member organizations and activists ringing doorbells and pushing their neighbors to vote.

Soon enough, the two organizations will need each other again. One reason, perhaps, that the mudslinging was particularly amusing.

Mary Moody: The loss of the revered pastor at 91 underscores the need for adults in the community leadership who have the moral authority to pull people and groups back from petty disputes. She will be greatly missed.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.

Ascension Parish sued over property tax exemption approvals that hid identities of recipients