In most of the country, there’s a sigh of relief as the 2018 midterm elections draw to a close.
Once again, Louisiana is out of step.
In Baton Rouge and Lafayette, significant decisions will be debated in the weeks before the Dec. 8 runoff election, just weeks away.
The never-ending drama on TrumpTV may still be on cable, but the more significant decisions facing voters are local.
In Lafayette, it is the proposal for separate parish and city councils. That is not just a procedural battle but one that involves deeply felt alienation of city voters. Control of the LUS revenues that subsidize Lafayette Consolidated Government perhaps might not change much if the charter proposal passes, but there remains that sense of not-getting-ours in the city compared to the suburbs.
In Baton Rouge, the two important taxes on the ballot are Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s efforts to tackle two long-standing problems, roads and public safety.
The first is obvious, a giant bond issue for road and bridge projects. The second is perhaps a little less so.
The parishwide property tax for mental health is much smaller in terms of money raised, at 1.5 mills a year.
But its benefits to law enforcement as well as health care are part of the discussion that ought to go on before the vote. Police officers and other first responders have a very difficult time dealing with the mentally ill; all too often, a police officer will eat up half his shift taking a disturbed person to a hospital emergency room, where care can be provided but quite often not the follow-up to prevent the same person ending up the same way in future.
So the tax proposition is really as much a public safety issue as anything else.
But in terms of sheer dollars, it’s hard to beat the consequential decision on roads and bridges.
When the Legislature — buoyed by an improving state economy and new money caused indirectly by federal tax cuts — cut the state sales tax rate from 5 cents on the dollar to 4.45, that left a halfpenny up for grabs.
Or at least that’s apparently how the mayor sees it, and proposes to fill it with a half-cent sales tax for no less than 30 years.
It would finance the debt payments on $912 million for more than 60 road projects across the parish that would add lanes, synchronize traffic lights, pave sidewalks and more.
There is not much in the way of real innovation in the plan. Some of the projects have been on the drawing boards for years. Maintenance of what roads we have is clearly not a priority, nor is public transit, compared to suburban commuters; among the bigger projects on the list are Airline Highway, a state road, and a Pecue Lane interchange, another state project that the city clearly never expects the state to build.
The mayor’s roads transportation chief, Fred Raiford, told editors and reporters at The Advocate that it’s a “catch-up” plan, and that’s a lot of catching up, but it’s also a tax that will last for decades, with its largest impact falling on working families.
But as all those issues are hashed out before Dec. 8, it’s difficult to argue that we don’t have tons of roads and bridges that need to be improved, nor that the political resistance to property taxes on such a large scale makes the sales tax the mayor’s go-to option.
It's a debate that our gridlocked city has to have.