The outrage was almost immediate, Baton Rouge and its city-parish government, with an annual budget just shy of $1 billion, can’t find a spare $2 million for each of the next 30 years, beginning somewhere around 2024, to secure $255 million from the feds for critically-needed drainage projects in our flood-prone parish?
“Is this a joke?” asks Business Report Executive Editor J.R. Ball in his latest column.
A parish just recovering from the mother of all floods in 2016 is stretched too thin to dig up what amounts to 0.2% of its ever-escalating annual budget? A city still drying out from the swamping of an early June super soaker is too cash-poor to pay for the very drainage and flood control projects Mayor Sharon Weston Broome claims is a big-time priority for her administration?
In fact, going all-in with the full $65 million for the drainage projects match is just 2.5% of what Broome and the Metro Council will spend this year.
With no immediate bailout from the state, city-parish officials—and God knows how many members of the good ol’ boy network—are now ciphering ways to finagle dollars attached to a separate federal bounty, hoping it will magically unlock this new chest of federal treasure.
What some are suggesting is that funds from the library system, mosquito abatement, BREC, CATS and the Council on Aging are all sitting on protected public dollars that could—and should—be set free to help pay for stuff like roads, bridges and local matches to improve drainage. The concept is not without merit, but it’s also more complicated than it looks.
But, Ball writes, the entirety of this problem amounts to Baton Rouge’s collective distrust of the mayor and those we elect to the Metro Council, which began long before Broome took office.