Gov. John Bel Edwards has signed into law a bill establishing the creation of a transition district for the prospective city of St. George.
Though enactment of the legislation, approved by lawmakers late last month in the final hours of the regular legislative session, was not unexpected, organizers of the prospective city say it’s an important milestone in their journey toward incorporation.
“We’re thrilled that the governor signed it,” St. George spokesman Drew Murrell says. “It’s a step forward and a step towards our ultimate goal.”
The act, which was SB423 by Sen. Mack “Bodi” White during the session, creates a mechanism by which the new city—should it survive a court challenge and become officially incorporated—will be able to collect the 2% parish sales tax generated within its boundaries.
Though Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration originally opposed the bill, the final version of the legislation was amended in small but significant ways that made the measure less objectionable to them.
Among them: The transition district only goes into effect once the city of St. George is incorporated. Also, the bill was stripped of language that would have potentially excluded St. George from having to share in the cost of projects outside its boundaries.
Another issue that had long been a concern of the city-parish administration—how mounting legacy pension costs would be shared—was resolved separately several months ago, following negotiations between St. George and the City Parish Employees Retirement System or CPERS.
Prior to Edwards’ decision to sign HB423, it was unclear whether the governor, who vetoed a similar bill last summer, would sign this one or let it become law without his signature.
That he signed it suggests the Democratic governor is carefully picking his battles with a Legislature dominated by a strong and increasingly united Republic majority.
As a practical matter, however, the legislation doesn’t change anything for the time being because Broome and two other plaintiffs are currently challenging the incorporation in a lawsuit that will likely remain tied up in court for months, if not years.
The city cannot officially become incorporated until that litigation is resolved.
Broome’s attorney in the lawsuit, Mary Olive Pierson, says she is not disappointed or surprised Edwards signed the bill.
”We got the amendment needed to make it clear there will be no transition, including no tax collection, until after the proponents win the pending lawsuit, which is doubtful, and the Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled in their favor and set the date for incorporation,” she says “We remain confident they cannot show they can organize, financially support and run a separate government and at the same time not adversely impact the city of Baton Rouge.”