It’s time to go to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 10, to cast some important votes for the future of our city-parish, state and business community. Here are my endorsements:
MAYOR-PRESIDENT: Sharon Weston Broome
Baton Rouge is the capital city and our parish is the largest in the state. We are leading the way in job creation. We are home to Louisiana’s flagship university, LSU, Southern University, BRCC, ExxonMobil and the largest inland port. Our potential is great.
But we also have real challenges that could thwart our success. And the events of 2016 have raised the bar for our community.
Our next mayor-president will play a key role in whether we unite our community to realize our potential and meet those challenges head-on.
We all know the major issues discussed: traffic, economic development, crime, race relations, drainage, flood recovery, education, etc.—and how to fund it all.
No one person will solve these alone, and each of the candidates has strengths and weaknesses. Both have been public servants and represented their constituents, but this job is much bigger and requires a broader vision and need to connect with all residents. Issues like traffic and flood recovery are not Democratic or Republican problems; they are community problems. Success will require surrounding one’s self with a strong leadership team—and getting wise counsel from those in our city, state and nation who have been “thought leaders” and have had success. We must have confidence that our next mayor-president can be trusted to be a good listener to hear the thoughts of residents and others with ideas and experience to arrive at the best solutions. That’s leadership.
In a global economy and battle for attracting talent, we have to realize that Baton Rouge’s competition is not the region or state, but the entire nation. We can’t be parochial or think “small town,” because we aren’t anymore. We must be innovative and “think big,” or our children and grandchildren may have even larger issues to face. That is not a legacy we desire.
This is an important election. Baton Rouge is my hometown and I have lived here all my life. This community has been very kind to my family, and I love our capital city. I know Sen. Bodi White and Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, and they are both good people with a heart to serve. I have met with each, watched the debates and read their responses to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber questionnaire. It seems that on many of the issues, the candidates are in agreement on what needs to be done. So which will be the better listener and be more effective with the Metro Council and residents north and south? Who is the right choice at this time in history to unite our parish and move our city-parish forward? I thought about this long and hard. There are never any guarantees, and as they say, “The proof is always in the pudding.”
I concluded that Weston Broome is the servant-leader who can be the best mayor-president for our community and future. She gets my vote.
U.S. SENATE: John Kennedy
This is a classic Democrat versus Republican showdown. The nation watches and waits for Louisiana to fill the final seat in the Senate, which now has 51 Republicans among the 99 senators elected to-date.
We all know that Washington, D.C., politics is a team sport with red and blue jerseys, like it or not. That may be part of the problem, but the philosophy of the role of government is much more relevant at the national level than at the state or local. Louisiana is proof of that.
Most of us tend to root for one team or the other, based on one’s view of the function of government, taxes, individual liberties and state’s rights.
The runoff is between Democrat Foster Campbell and Republican John Kennedy. Campbell is a strong liberal who supports the policy and direction of outgoing President Barack Obama. Kennedy is a conservative who opposes Obama’s policies and supported President-elect Donald Trump. There is a definitive distinction between these two and how they would vote and represent the people of Louisiana. The options are very clear.
My philosophy—and I believe that of Louisiana—will best be represented by Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.
METRO COUNCIL TEAM
We need a Metro Council that will work as a team and lock arms with the new mayor-president to unite our community and get things done. We need energetic council members who will be thoughtful about the issues we face and listen to understand. Members who will think of “the whole” and not just their district. Despite being the largest parish in the state, we are still too small to be divided and succeed. The good book says, “A house divided against itself will not stand.”
We have big challenges to tackle in East Baton Rouge Parish, and we need elected leaders who will “think BIG” and “think DIFFERENT,” rather than just do things the way we’ve always done them before. That mindset has held us back for decades. It must change, and the Metro Council will play a key role. Here are the candidates I believe can help move our city-parish forward:
DISTRICT 2: No endorsement
DISTRICT 5: Erika L. Green
DISTRICT 7: LaMont Cole
DISTRICT 9: Dwight Hudson
DISTRICT 10: Tara Wicker
DISTRICT 12: Barbara Freiberg
Parishwide Crisis Stabilization Center: YES
This is a project that addresses a need in our community and can ultimately save taxpayers money. The Bridge Center for Hope will be a respite center, a first stop where first responders can bring those who are having a mental health crisis or are dealing with substance abuse and need to be assessed and stabilized. It’s an admirable alternative to taking them to the parish prison, where they sometimes stay for weeks or months (which is very costly) or to a hospital emergency room, where the officer must remain with them for hours.
The proposition is for a 10-year, 1.5-mill property tax that’s estimated to generate $6.1 million a year for the crisis stabilization center. While it will cost money to establish the center, the plan postulates taxpayer savings of some $55 million over the next 10 years in incarceration and health care costs.
The Bridge Center for Hope plan calls for 30 inpatient beds and a staff that includes physicians, mental health professionals, nurse practitioners and a pair of two-member mobile response teams to respond to calls for service from law enforcement and transport patients to the facility. Included in the plan is a sobering unit, a detox unit and a longer-term respite center.
This center is the right way to handle such situations. It will benefit law enforcement officers and the citizens—and, ultimately, taxpayers. The center is modeled after a very successful facility in San Antonio. Baton Rouge can be the model for Louisiana.
Parishwide Green Light Property Tax: YES
Parishwide Green Light Sales Tax Rededication: YES
We’re all well aware of the issues with roads all over our city-parish as we sit in traffic every day. It’s an issue that should have been addressed long ago—and it’s not going away. Mayor Kip Holden’s Green Light Plan to improve traffic infrastructure is a pay-as-you-go system that generates about $6 million a year through a dedicated sales tax. The plan is to pass a parishwide Green Light sales tax rededication, which would “rededicate a portion of the proceeds of the half-cent sales tax authorized through Dec. 31, 2030, to be used exclusively to provide funds to repair public roads, to construct public roads on a pay-as-you-go basis, and to construct community enhancement road projects, including road repairs, lights and sidewalks, within the parish and the city of Baton Rouge and the cities of Baker, Zachary and Central.” Some 150 rehabilitation and community enhancement projects through 2030 are detailed on BRgov.com.
The rededication of the sales tax will only happen if the other parishwide Green Light Property Tax is approved. This new tax is “a 30-year, 5-mill property tax estimated to generate $20.2 million a year for: (a) improving existing public roads; (b) constructing new public roads, within the parish and city of Baton Rouge as described in the Green Light Plan 2 dated Sept. 28, 2016, and within the cities of Baker, Zachary and Central on a priority basis.”
The new tax would fund 45 major capacity projects through 2046. It’s costly, but it means new and wider roads. You can see the complete list of projects on BRgov.com, which includes widening Lee Drive, College Drive, Hoo Shoo Too Road and Mickens Road. It would also connect Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard, Hennessy Boulevard and Perkins Road, Ardenwood Drive and Lobdell Avenue, and Perkins Road and Picardy Avenue.
The plan also improves intersections at College Drive and the Interstate 10 interchange, Harding Boulevard at Interstate 110, Bluebonnet and Picardy, and intersections along Highland Road. These are just some of the projects planned for the next 30 years, which will be needed as we grow.
Our needs are obvious every day. Both the Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, or CRISIS, and BRAC have endorsed both proposals. I will vote in favor on both.
Parishwide Hotel Occupancy Tax: YES
Tourism, conventions, major events like the U.S. Bowling Congress and concerts all have a major economic impact on businesses and create thousands of jobs. They also add to the quality of life in the Capital City. But it takes promotion and facilities to compete and attract them all. This tax would not be paid by you, but by visitors who stay in hotels. The increase would put us in line with others in our region. From the revenues, 50% would go to improving the Raising Cane’s River Center facilities, which is badly needed, and 50% for Visit Baton Rouge to promote and attract tourists and conventions. This tax will also free up dollars that previously have come from the general fund.
North Economic Development District: YES
This is a separate hotel occupancy tax, which would also be paid by guests staying in hotels in a designated area of north Baton Rouge.
There has been much discussion about the need for economic development in north Baton Rouge. The need is real. And the Legislature established this district and an operating board. They desire to model the success of the Downtown Development District. They plan to partner with Southern University, area businesses, schools and government to foster growth and entrepreneurship. This is a positive step and opportunity for NBR.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2017
The media is often maligned for just printing “bad news.” But that is not always the case. I noticed last week on our Daily Report e-newsletter the headlines below reporting good news in our city, state and nation. These bode well for the new year ahead. If you don’t get the Daily Report AM and PM email, you can sign up at DailyReport.com. It’s free.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Good news for Louisiana: U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, the lone Democrat in Louisiana’s delegation, has been elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Bad news for America and the Democrats: California Rep. Nancy Pelosi was re-elected minority leader.
CHEERS TO BREW!
Last month, the Capital Region celebrated our entrepreneurs with Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week, or BREW. Business Report was proud to be part of the event, along with our sister magazine, 225. We want to thank Byron Clayton and the board at NexusLA, Julie Laperouse at Emergent Method and the “BREW Krewe” for taking the lead this year on this important event. We also want to congratulate all the organizations who hosted events, the speakers and all the participants who joined in. It was a great week full of energetic sessions, and you can check out some photos from them on page 49. Our entrepreneurs are the risk-takers and job creators, and we want to thank you for making our community strong. We are looking forward to BREW 2017.
College athletes are always in the spotlight, and if they mess up it makes headlines. But they also deserve some press for their success in the classroom, not just on the field. Congratulations are in order for LSU, which is graduating more student-athletes than ever before. LSU says its Graduation Success Rate, as reported to the NCAA, reached 88 this year, which is four points higher than the all-time high GSR posted last year by LSU. Among all SEC schools, LSU ranks fourth for its GSR, which is also four points higher than the NCAA Division I. Eight sports led LSU with perfect scores of 100: men’s golf, men’s tennis, women’s golf, gymnastics, women’s tennis, women’s swimming, volleyball, and women’s track/cross country. Well done.
A SEASON OF GIVING
Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” As you consider your year-end giving and plan for donations in 2017, you may want to learn more about the nonprofit organizations that help to strengthen the Baton Rouge community.
In our last issue delivered by mail to subscribers, we included our 2016-2017 Giving Guide special advertising supplement. It can also be found online. In the guide, organizations share details on their missions, funding, projects, services, events and leadership.
After the historic flooding that devastated our community in August, the silver lining was the way people stepped up, came together, and gave of their time and treasure to help those in need. Our community showed both resilience and character. Of course, we all know that many of our charities and nonprofits operate year-round to serve in similar ways. We don’t want to forget about those wonderful organizations. Take a look at the guide and help if you can.