Balkan Rouge

Balkan Rouge

Almost everyone who meets Jared Loftus winds up liking Jared Loftus. He's bright. He's personable. He's a successful entrepreneur who helps other entrepreneurs in their quest for success. He's active in the community, and—some will tell you—Jared Loftus has the stuff to one day become our mayor-president.

My experience with the affable Loftus only confirms these laudable traits. He's a young man with tremendous business and civic upside.

One path his career won't take is that of political analyst. This became evident last week when Loftus, a Capital Area Transit System board member, offered The Advocate this insight following passage by voters in Baton Rouge and Baker of a 10-year property tax to fund and expand CATS bus service (it was trounced in Zachary): “If anything, it shows that this community came together, and they recognize that our bus system needs to be properly funded.”

Really? That is hardly what this election revealed—unless, of course, he was speaking specifically about the get-out-the-vote efforts in north Baton Rouge.

If anything, this election offered a compelling view of the self-interest divide in this community and was merely the most recent step in the ceaseless march toward the balkanization of Baton Rouge.

Following several ill-fated efforts to get a parishwide bus tax approved, CATS supporters, fearing a financial shutdown of the bus system in July, carefully chose three pre-existing tax districts and presented a tax that would not only save the system but allow for its expansion. Further increasing the odds of victory—especially since winning in Zachary was a long shot—the tax was crafted so that passage was solely dependent upon approval in Baton Rouge, a city whose majority black population is more reliant upon bus service than any other demographic in the parish.

It was a successful strategy, evidenced by the precinct-by-precinct breakdown; black voters overwhelmingly approved the tax hike, while a strong majority of white voters did not. The net result was easy passage in the majority black cities of Baton Rouge and Baker and a lopsided defeat in majority white Zachary.

Moreover, the black-white voting trends can lead one to make the case that this tax would have been defeated if—as the plan's architects originally wanted—the district covered all the geography presently serviced by CATS. That's because what essentially got left behind with the decision to select ready-made districts is a majority white section of south Baton Rouge, bordered by Essen and Siegen lanes to the north and south, and Burbank Drive and Jefferson Highway to the west and east.

Opponents cry foul; supporters rejoice, claiming one does whatever is necessary to sustain something as important as the bus system.

The truth is we've become a parish balkanized by self-interest, with each special interest group out to secure dedicated revenue so that other special interest groups can't take it. The concepts of shared interest, compromise and the greater good are all but extinct. We don't mind this self-serving reality when it achieves our goal, but we abhor it when it achieves the goal of another.

Zachary wants to keep self-generated hotel-motel tax money for self-promotion. Baton Rouge wants its own bus system. Central, Baker and Zachary want special representation on the parishwide BREC and library boards. Downtown says it needs significant financial love in order for this parish to be great. Central and Zachary say we're pretty great already and that money should be spent to ease their growing pains. Seemingly every section of the parish wants its own independent school district. Soon we'll learn about a plan to let Mid City keep massive amounts of self-generated tax revenue to finance the rebirth of that blighted area of the parish. And then there's the racial divide, which no one wants to discuss.

Every group makes a compelling case, but no one is listening. We're all too busy scheming for the means to justify our ends.

What we're left with is a hopelessly fractured parish that is united on but one front—the need for better roads.

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