East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden issued a rare veto Wednesday to an economic development district intended to help north Baton Rouge, the latest squabble between Holden and the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council as he nears the end of his third term as mayor-president.
The economic development district would give property tax breaks for future developers who want to build north of Florida Boulevard and in the city limits of Baton Rouge. After deferring it for months, the Metro Council signed off on the district last week with broad support.
“We’ll be bankrupt behind that scheme,” Holden said in an interview several days after the vote, adding that the district was too large and that the city-parish would miss out on too much money because of it.
The economic development district passed with nine votes of the 12-member Metro Council, one more than would be required to override the mayor’s veto. However, one of the council members who voted with the majority said he regrets the vote, and others have said the veto presents an opportunity to make the district better and more specific.
Holden sent his veto message to the Metro Council on Wednesday afternoon, citing concerns about cuts to the city-parish’s budget in light of the state government not having enough money to go around.
Holden said the economic development district proposed by John Delgado may have been well-intended, but it “calls for government to provide tax breaks without a real plan.”
He also wrote that the economic development district does not address the causes of decline in north Baton Rouge, an area that he previously said developers were not interested in. Holden is from north Baton Rouge.
“We will not open our government to speculative spending at the taxpayers’ expense,” Holden wrote. “Our financial success in this parish is not based on gimmicks but on hard work with all segments of our community pulling together. Don’t gamble away the future of our great city and parish. Our citizens deserve better.”
Delgado said he was shocked and dismayed by the veto. He questioned why Holden did not contact him over the months during which the district was deferred.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed,” Delgado said. “If you want to know why you don’t see any economic development in north Baton Rouge, it’s because of politicians from north Baton Rouge that sabotage every opportunity we have to help that community.”
He dismissed Holden’s rhetoric about the financial strain the property tax abatements could put on the city-parish. The district would only affect future developers, keeping the city-parish’s current tax base from north Baton Rouge businesses in place, Delgado said.
The district would allow developers to apply to the Metro Council for property tax abatements. They could spend five years paying property taxes at the original level of property they buy or improve in north Baton Rouge, rather than paying increased taxes from their improvements. The abatement could also be extended for five more years.
Delgado hoped it would encourage business owners to build in the community. The Metro Council would receive regular status updates on the district, which would be re-evaluated as part of a sunset clause in five years from now.
This is only the third time Holden has vetoed legislation during his 12 years as mayor. He vetoed two ordinances in 2011 — then the first East Baton Rouge mayoral veto in more than two decades — that the Metro Council overrode.
Holden hasn’t been afraid to spar with Metro Council members during his time as mayor.
He lashed out at Delgado at a news conference in August after Delgado said the lack of riverfront development in Baton Rouge was driven by “poor practices of the past, the policies of the present and a lack of vision for the future.”
Holden criticized Delgado’s remarks and suggested asking Delgado if he had sought preferential treatment from the Baton Rouge Police Department. Delgado said at the time that he did not know what Holden was talking about.
Delgado said Wednesday he plans to ask the Metro Council to override the veto and that the vote should happen at the next Metro Council meeting on April 27. The Metro Council would need a two-thirds vote of its 12 member body for the override to go through.
But some Metro Council members have cheered Holden’s veto, saying it was the right call.
Joel Boé, who voted for the district, said Wednesday that he later decided it was a bad vote on his part. He said the district is too broad and that the economic development district needs to be more specific about what kinds of development the city-parish wants to incentivize people to bring to north Baton Rouge.
He said he would like to see a list of north Baton Rouge’s top 10 to 15 needs and then use the economic development district to hone in on those.
“I know it may be perceived as a negative, but I see it as a second chance to get it right,” Boé said about the veto. “As it’s written, you’d have some savvy developers coming in and taking advantage.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Chandler Loupe and Councilman Scott Wilson — both of whom missed the economic development district vote — said they agreed that the language of the district was problematic.
Loupe said the district needed more parameters, while Wilson said he would have voted against it the first time around and that he supported the mayor’s veto.
Other council members were still taking in the news on Wednesday afternoon at their zoning meeting. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she was still trying to understand why Holden vetoed the district.
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel said she had not read the veto yet but that the creation of an economic development district hinges on having people to courting developers in the area.
Banks-Daniel has attempted to do that with her #NBRNOW Blue Ribbon Commission, which is trying to court health care providers and other businesses to the area.
Holden ended his veto message to the Metro Council by saying the door is open for an incentive plan with specific criteria that’s financially prudent and “benefits all of our citizens.”