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Bond rejection reminds govt to focus only on necessary

While elections always serve up information about the state of the electorate at the time of them, when they produce seeming disparate results produce the most insightful lessons.

Last Saturday, East Baton Rouge voters decisively rejected a $901 million bond package that would have been paid for by increased taxes. This came on the heels last year of the rejection of another similar package, about $100 million higher, despite the fact that the latest version had picked up many allies in the business community. The measure contained about three-fifths expense on public safety and infrastructure, and the rest on parking garages, venue improvements, but most on a recreational zone called Alive. Proponents argued that the infrastructure changes were needed, and that the other projects would enhance the quality of life in Baton Rouge.

Despite its reduced cost (even with the same 9.9 mills property and 0.5 cent sales tax increases), so-called “establishment” support of the issue, and a great spending disparity in favor of it during campaigning, 64 percent of the electorate rejected it, whereas last year’s issue lost with only 51 percent of the vote. In part this was due to more than 100,000 fewer voters participating in this stand-alone election in contrast to the presidential election held in conjunction with last year’s vote – in a parish that gave the Democrat ticket a slight majority of the vote indicating that the electorate this time compared to last was disproportionately composed of those who pay more in sales and property taxes. Also, economic conditions have gotten worse since then, with no trend to suggest things will improve any time soon.

Outspoken critics pointed to the inclusion of the Alive project as their reason to vote against. Simply, they did not want taxes to go to fund something that was more like a business venture that should be supported from the private sector which had no guarantee of success. Some on the Metropolitan Council had sensed this and wanted the Alive portion dealt with separately, but it stayed on and resisted another attempt to be sliced off after concerns about legal title to the property it was to occupy surfaced.

Another much less publicized simultaneous pair of elections confirmed this sentiment. Two parish crime-prevention districts voted, one case to establish and in the other to increase, annual fees to pay for extra patrols of their neighborhoods, the requests passing handily. This would indicate that Mayor-President Kip Holden made a tactical error insisting, for which he lobbied hard, keeping Alive as part of the package in this year – no doubt because he knew its government-as-economic-growth-engine never would pass on its own.

But neither did it pass with the other improvements driving the train under the very favorable conditions of last year, and thereby Baton Rouge continues to lack the ability to make significant infrastructure and public safety improvements and any such change to that situation now years away. With these elections lies a lesson.

Simply, especially in these more difficult economic times, people want government to focus on doing the things it is best equipped to do – build roads, drainage, public safety complexes, and provide that public safety – and not to take additional monies out of people’s pockets to do what it does badly. Enough of the citizenry recognizes Baton Rouge will improve in quality of life only when people are allowed to keep more of what they earn and utilize it in their own ways through the market to signal what they deem to enhance that – not to have government choose the means of improvement and to oversee it.

It is an enduring lesson but one that the believers in government economic intervention and their sycophants never learn. They just got a reminder of it in East Baton Rouge Parish, and it is better for that.

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