As we baby step our way into this third decade of the 21st century one can only wonder: Can the lunacy get any crazier?
Of course, it can. This, after all, is Baton Rouge, where every day is Groundhog Day. A place where doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is pretty much our thing. Seriously, Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” should be our parish anthem.
With that soul-stirring preamble out of the way, let’s explore the fodder that will be feeding the joy that is our reader comments section.
Impossible is finding anyone in our fair parish who argues traffic isn’t a nightmare in need of a wakeup call. Yet that doesn’t stop a small, but influential, group of mansion owners near the City Park lakes from bringing plans to expand Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge to a screeching halt—much like vehicles so often do on I-10 when a) people are going to and from work, b) it rains, c) there’s even the most minor of accidents or d) someone over the age of 75 gets behind the wheel and refuses to move the needle on their Edsel past 45 mph.
What’s uniting this unlikely amalgamation of aristocrats and the nouveau riche are fears that a new and improved—and expanded—bridge across the lakes could impact the value of their multimillion-dollar mega-homes. Some even fret the decline could be so horrific that their actual home and property values come close to matching the paltry assessment calculations of Tax Assessor Brian Wilson.
None, of course, choose to go public, opting for the status quo of operating in the shadows and exerting their considerable influence in private. One member of this clandestine group, however, is outed after being seen exiting the backdoor of the Governor’s Mansion. Asked how stopping the I-10 expansion project serves the same greater good that made the incorporation of St. George such an abomination, he says, “Self-sacrifice is for other people, not the rich.”
Speaking of St. George, those opposing the prospective city open a new front in the battle against the voter-approved incorporation: Convincing the Metro Council to create an economic development district that mirrors the prospective city’s boundaries and granting every retail business tax incremental financing on the two-cent sales tax that would fund East Baton Rouge’s fifth city.
Council members argue the move has nothing to do with financially starving St. George and everything to do with allowing retailers to fund parking lot improvements and hire more minimum wage workers. Says one council member, “This is an economic development aid package to help suburban retailers. To read anything more into it would be a mistake.”
In an unrelated move, the council, with the backing of St. George litigant and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, agrees to send voters a ballot item to approve a parishwide 2-cent sales tax to fund a host of north Baton Rouge projects and initiatives.
Gary Chambers, a prominent community voice, takes to Facebook Live to blast the plan, arguing dedicating a tax to north Baton Rouge is necessary and fantastic, but that all north Baton Rouge residents or businesses should be exempt from paying or collecting the tax. Regardless, the tax measure narrowly wins approval in November.
Speaking of the November elections, Broome easily wins re-election thanks to voters in Spanish Town, Mid City and the remarkable efforts of rich, white businessmen whose companies have astonishingly lucrative contracts with the city-parish.
The council races prove equally boring. Though there’s a steady drumbeat of voter complaint about inept council members and the need for new blood, pretty much every incumbent council member wins re-election. Says one voter after casting her ballot, “The problem isn’t my council person. It’s all those other people on the council who are nuts.”
Speaking of politics, Richard Lipsey and other diehard supporters of Gov. John Bel Edwards work overtime to have Jay Dardenne, an LSU alumnus and the governor’s commissioner of administration, replace the outgoing F. King Alexander as the flagship university’s new leader. To appease the governor’s base in New Orleans, the plan is to split Alexander’s responsibilities, naming Dardenne president and appointing a candidate with NOLA ties to the chancellor’s job.
The cabal brushes off criticism that several of those orchestrating these moves are the same folks who were decrying a similar alleged effort during the Bobby Jindal administration to get Stephen Moret a job leading the university.
“That is different,” says an unnamed member of the group. “Why would anyone think appointing a member of the Edwards administration to this job is the same as appointing a member of the Jindal administration?”
Speaking of LSU, Moret—still beaming from the successful efforts of he and his staff, many recruited from Baton Rouge, to bring Amazon to Virginia—announces a deal has been struck for Louisiana’s flagship institution to relocate to the Commonwealth.
“We really don’t need another university,” says Moret during a press conference from The Lawn at the University of Virginia, “but what makes this special is getting a championship-caliber football team.”
Under terms of the deal, the academic side of LSU and a football operations building will remain in Baton Rouge for recruiting purposes, but the football program itself will relocate to Ashburn, Virginia, moving into the facilities of the Washington Redskins, an NFL team set for disbandment following decades of embarrassing futility and mismanagement.
The Louisiana Legislature signs off on the deal, but only after hammering out an amendment giving legislators access to tickets and airfare and allowing campaign funds—or straight cash from lobbyists—to cover any expenses.
Speaking of deals, private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners announces it has cut public-private partnership agreements with the state and all 64 parishes, including East Baton Rouge, to operate every sewer system in Louisiana.
State and local officials, speaking at a massive joint press conference, say the move is necessary because “none of us can get voters to pass any taxes to deal with this crap.”
Jeff Jenkins, principle at BCP, ends the presser by declaring the implementation of a wide range of user fees to cover operational costs.
Two months later, in what’s billed as an unrelated move, Jim Bernhard and BCP announce their intention to get into the bridge and road building business.
Finally, Business Report‘s executive editor and columnist writes what amounts to be his annual December tirade about what he says—again—is the pitiful job being done by the tax assessor. Many in Baton Rouge will scream something must be done. Nothing will.
Happy new year.