Although city-parish Mayor-President Kip Holden might not see it this way, the Metro Council probably did the mayor a big favor by not putting Holden’s latest capital improvements tax proposal on the Nov. 19 ballot — a move that essentially kills the plan for at least the rest of the year.
Several members of the council complained — credibly, we believe – that they had been given little time to study the proposal after asking for details about Holden’s tax plan for six months.
If the measure had been placed on the Nov. 19 ballot, Holden and advocates of the tax plan would have had little time to promote the plan before the election.
Two similar tax plans floated by Holden previously failed at the polls. Those failures underscore the need to lay a solid groundwork before asking voters for a third time to approve such an ambitious tax package. In this case, Holden’s timing didn’t seem promising.
Even so, we’re not cheered by the prospect of further delay in addressing the needs that Holden’s tax plan was intended to fund.
Holden’s mix of sales and property taxes would have funded about $748 million in infrastructure and public safety needs. Those needs haven’t gone away, and the longer this community waits to address them, the more expensive those needs will become.
Any new tax proposal should be crafted only after members of the public have had a chance to express their views of the city-parish’s needs at community forums across the parish. To anyone who has navigated Baton Rouge’s stressed traffic grid or seen some of our crumbling law enforcement facilities, the need for a new capital improvements plan for this community should be self-evident. But the chances for success of any new tax plan will be enhanced if the public is given a chance to help shape the specifics of the proposal before it’s placed on the ballot.
In advancing any new proposal, Holden should consult mayors and community leaders in other cities in the parish. And now is the time for the mayor to rebuild his strained relationship with the Metro Council. That means, among other things, listening constructively to their concerns and giving them information in a timely fashion.
A closer working relationship between Holden and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, as well as between Holden and East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, also is needed.
Moore had suggested his office has pressing needs that would not have been addressed by Holden’s tax proposal. Gautreaux and state officials have been at odds with Holden over how federal homeland security grant funds should be administered. Such disputes don’t help build the kind of public consensus that will be required to get tax plans approved at the polls.
Although Holden’s latest tax plan was shelved by the Metro Council, a council-created panel is expected to propose an April tax election to support parish law enforcement needs.
The Metro Council is free to pursue its own tax proposals, of course, and the council is right to acknowledge that major local law enforcement facilities are in need of help.
But Baton Rouge needs a comprehensive tax plan that addresses this community’s law enforcement and infrastructure needs for the next generation. We’re afraid if they work separately, the mayor and council won’t be able to craft the kind of coherent plan that will best advance Baton Rouge’s future.
Now is the time for elected officials to work together for the good of East Baton Rouge Parish. As this community’s top elected official, Holden should lead that effort.