Volunteer Tommy Doran suspends a banner at a City of St. George campaign petition site at Jefferson Highway and Floynell Drive, Saturday, August 4, 2018.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has vetoed a bill that would have dictated how Baton Rouge and the proposed city of St. George would handle their transition if voters in the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish vote this fall to create a new municipality.

In his veto letter, Edwards calls the bill unnecessary because the election hasn't been held yet. Voters in the area will decide Oct. 12 whether to create a new city.

The governor also called attention to last-minute amendments that would have limited St. George's responsibility for liabilities and other bond indebtedness, should the incorporation win voter approval. 

"Many in the Baton Rouge community have expressed grave concerns about the finally passed version of this bill, including Mayor (Sharon Weston) Broome and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber," Edwards wrote. "They agree with me that if the voters do approve of a newly incorporated city of St. George, there should be a thoughtful, fair, and equitable transition process."

The bill had laid out the amount of liabilities, like retirement costs and approximately $11.2 million in bonded indebtedness, each side would pay if the incorporation happens.

Edwards called attention to the fact that the version of Senate Bill 229, authored by Senate Republicans Dan Claitor and Bodi White, that was passed in committee held St. George to its financial obligations in regard to the city-parish existing debts.

“However, the bill was amended on the Senate floor to limit the responsibility of St. George for liabilities and other bonded indebtedness for services that have been provided to the residents of the St. George area for decades,” Edwards wrote.

Edwards went on to say the structure for the transition can be later established through a cooperative endeavor agreement between both sides.

In a statement Friday, Broome said the bill would have forced the city-parish into unnecessary litigation with the proponents of St. George.

Broome also said the bill isn’t needed because current state laws already require the governor to appoint all officers of a newly incorporated municipality until the next general election.

In a separate statement BRAC says there will be plenty time to establish a transition mechanism after the election.

“The details of this transition should be handled via a locally led negotiation and mediation, which BRAC believes is the most appropriate approach to ensure a fair, thoughtful and legal process,” the statement says.

Edwards’ veto marks the second time he sided with Broome on measures related to St. George. At the mayor’s request, he put the incorporation measure on the fall ballot when it would attract a higher turnout instead of the spring ballot, which the St. George were hoping for.

Drew Murrell, a spokesman for the St. George movement, said it is “sad” and “pathetic” that the governor is playing politics with their attempts to establish a better government in their community.

Without the stipulations in the transition bill in place, Murrell said, if St. George does win the right to incorporate, it wouldn’t be able to collect on the 2 percent sales tax around which organizers have built the proposed city's financial plan.

“The city-parish is not only going to punish Baton Rouge, they’re trying to punish and strangle St. George to keep us from being successful,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said St. George organizers will likely re-introduce another transition bill in the next Legislative session following the outcome of the fall election.

“The whole purpose of the bill was so that both parties could work together and determine a framework,” Murrell said.

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