Capitol Views: St. George transition bill on the move

    The House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs advanced legislation Wednesday morning which would make arrangements for the possible incorporation of the city of St. George. SB229 by state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would create a special taxation district and levy a 2% sales tax to help fund the activities of the new municipality.

    Claitor’s legislation would only take effect if voters located within the proposed boundaries of the new city approve incorporation in the fall. The transition district would be located entirely within the St. George area. “This is simply a financing method for if the vote happens to go in favor,” said Chairman Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales.

    The bill’s author told the panel that he brought the measure simply to have a mechanism ready and in place if voters approve the incorporation referendum on the fall ballot. “What we’re trying to do now is the most responsible thing,” said consultant Lionel Rainey III, who has been active in the St. George effort. “Creating a transition district in the event this happens allows everything to continue to operate on both sides.”

    Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome objected to the instrument, arguing that any legislation should be put on hold until residents have decided the fate of the proposed city. “It is premature because an election has not taken place,” Broome said.

    The mayor and city-parish government officials also argued that amendments attached to the bill on the Senate floor countered an initial agreement that they had with Claitor and Sen. Bodi White, R-Central. Broome contends that in its current form, the legislation would not require St. George residents to assume parts existing bonded debt and other financial obligations. “We were singing a casual kumbaya and then everything was dismantled,” she told the committee.

    Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge echoed Broome’s sentiment, saying, “When you come back and change your whole aspect of how the bill should go forward, to me that is not a good word.”

    Claitor countered by stating that the debt language was still included in the bill and the amendments were attached to improve the overall scope of the legislation. He also said he believes that most of the other details of the incorporation process will be ironed out in a courtroom, not a committee room. “It is headed to litigation and it will be worked out there,” he said.

    Rainey dismissed the mayor’s concerns, arguing that the petitioners are not attempting to avoid existing financial agreements that are in place. “Of course we are willing to pay our fair share,” he said. “We are going to pay that fair share.”

    The committee approved the bill in an 11-5 vote that fell almost strictly along party lines. It next heads to the House floor for debate, having passed the full Senate on May 15.

    Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com.  

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