JR Ball: Why is Baton Rouge dedicated to failure?


If we’ve learned anything in Baton Rouge over the past few years, it’s this: Dedicated taxes—and independent taxing authorities—are a waste of taxpayer money.

Such, at least, is the case if one has even the slightest of interests in concepts like fiscal efficiency or living in a world where paying for our “needs” trumps hurling money at our “wants.”

Oh sure, it’s a fabulous way to live off the taxpayer dime if you run one of these just-show-me-the-money entities. Even more spectacular is if your agency happens to be one—like most—where the hiring and firing of those running the show isn’t up to the voters, giving these groups almost unfettered power.

And the beauty—at least for them—of this “every government agency for itself” setup is whatever they respectively seduce from voters can’t be touched by anyone else. Hence the term “dedicated.”

A good gig if you can get it, but it ain’t exactly festivus for the rest of us.

Don’t believe me? How’d that whole “moving the zoo” affair work for you? What about CATS? Remember the library system “hiking” the property tax millage on what was supposed to be a simple renewal? And dare I mention the zaniness that is the Council on Aging?

They get the money. We get mad. And the critical needs of Baton Rouge get ignored.

We’re told the library system is sitting on a $60 million surplus and BREC, according to one insider, has something of a $30 million cushion; yet we’ve got nothing to deal with streets that are approaching third-world status? We all get it’s good business to have a rainy day fund, but does it make sense for parks and libraries to be sitting fiscally fat while ever-growing unfunded pension and benefit liabilities are starving the general fund budget?

Yet here’s the brutal truth: We created this mess.

Let’s face it, Baton Rouge is a town that loves paying for life’s “wants,” while ignoring its “needs.”

Our long-standing distrust of the Metro Council is what gave birth to the independent taxing authority, figuring it was better to have those running the public school system, BREC and the libraries come directly to us for their cash.

The irony is that outside of public schools we continue to allow the mayor and Metro Council to handle the spending on actually important items, like public safety and infrastructure.

And whenever some special interest group—like those backing CATS or the COA—gets mad over how the council is doling out the benjamins they either concoct a special taxing district or simply get a dedicated tax, removing a politically divided council from their tax-and-spend business.

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Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

We’re the ones allowing these groups to schedule tax proposals on off-date elections, enabling the employees and zealots of an agency to flock to the polls and shove another tax down our throat.

Which explains why we pay so much for fancy soccer fields while paying so little to repair dilapidated bridges and roads with potholes the size of bomb craters.

Let’s face it, Baton Rouge is a town that loves paying for life’s “wants,” while ignoring its “needs.”

Complain about a city, with a budget pushing $1 billion, not being able to afford the necessities of life, like well-paid police officers, then remember a sizable chunk of that money goes to all manner of dedicated and leveed money streams.

Here’s the crazy part, all of this money dedicating actually leads to higher overall taxes. Which, given the hysterically anti-tax beliefs held by many in this parish, makes absolutely zero sense.

None of this is meant to suggest that spending money on libraries, parks, mass transit or helping to feed the elderly are bad things. It’s great that we care so much about cool libraries and award-winning parks. But to do so at the expense of ignoring the real needs of this parish is wrong.

It’s interesting watching folks go nuts because a group of suburban residents wants to hoard their own tax dollars and go it semi-alone in their own city of St. George.

What’s the problem? It is, after all, the Baton Rouge way.

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