East Baton Rouge Parish residents have gotten at least two sets of ideas recently about the long-term needs of parish government and how to fund them.
We believe the public would be well-served if city-parish officials could work together to create one plan that has a broad, clear vision of where Baton Rouge needs to go.
Sadly, what we’ve gotten so far is political infighting. That’s no way to build a public mandate for any new tax package, regardless of who is advancing it.
Mayor-President Kip Holden had asked the Metro Council to place on the autumn ballot a $748 million tax package that would have used a mix of property and sales taxes to fund improvements to local roads, bridges, law enforcement facilities and other infrastructure. The council voted to leave the plan off the ballot, with several members complaining that Holden had failed to provide details of the plan in a timely manner. We agree with those complaints.
Now that Holden’s plan has been shelved, a Metro Council-created committee is developing an alternate tax plan aimed more narrowly at crime-fighting. So far, the committee, which includes Holden, some members of the Metro Council, and various law enforcement officials, has identified some $500 million in capital projects and operational expenses for crime-fighting. The committee could modify its list over the next few weeks, Metro Councilman Mike Walker, who sits on the committee, said the Metro Council could eventually vote to place a crime-fighting tax package on the April ballot.
Although Holden is a member of the committee, he was absent from the panel’s first meeting and instead sent two staff members to represent him. The mayor criticized the work of the committee so far, saying that raising taxes to fund operational expenses for local agencies is a bad idea right now. He also suggested that some of the committee’s spending ideas shouldn’t be put ahead of critical city-parish infrastructure needs, such as aging bridges.
The $500 million in law enforcement needs identified by the panel is a jump from the $298 million dedicated to public safety in Holden’s capital improvements proposal.
East Baton Rouge Parish’s taxing capacity is not limitless. The parish needs additional money for both law enforcement needs and roads and bridges. What’s needed is a tax plan that addresses both law enforcement and infrastructure. At the very least, the Holden tax plan rejected by the council made an attempt to balance these various interests. But Holden didn’t appear to seek much collaboration with Metro Council members, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, or East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore in creating his tax plan.
That lack of collaboration has helped create the present split between Holden and key members of the Metro Council-appointed committee. Exploring a variety of proposals for funding the needs of parish government isn’t a bad thing – as long as the debate over competing plans is respectful, honest, and open to constructive compromise. The end result should be a plan that promises the best use of tax dollars and that can gain wide public support.
Holden obviously isn’t thrilled about the tax and spending ideas generated by a committee not of his own making, but he might be more effective in pressing his concerns by attending future meetings of the committee in person.
We’d like to see the mayor, the Metro Council and other city-parish leaders working at the same table for the good of the parish. If that doesn’t happen, public confidence in any tax plan will be compromised.