I believe there are two major local issues in Baton Rouge that need immediate attention by the local government and/or the state government.
One issue is the Capital Area Transit System property tax that was recently approved in Baton Rouge. The tax was advertised to voters as being a municipal tax that would exclude the homestead exemption. Then, after the election was held, the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office released an opinion that indicated the tax is not a municipal tax and that the homestead exemption should apply.
Previous CATS taxes that were voted on did include the homestead exemption, and both of those actually failed. I think voters were sold a pig in a poke in this tax election. For that reason, I believe our government should take the responsibility of declaring the entire tax election null and void. The CATS bus system can always have another tax election in which voters could actually go to the polls with all of the correct facts.
The second issue is the local sanitary sewer overflow project. This project has gone from being an estimated $678 million project to a $1.5 billion project. There are several questions about the design and costs of this project that need to be answered:
First, exactly why is the Central Treatment Plant going to be eliminated?
Second, why does this project continue to get more and more expensive?
Third, why is so much of this project being bonded out, especially in the last few years? Moody’s Investors Service actually downgraded some of the bonds in July.
In addition, there was a recent article about derivatives and interest-rate swaps in The New York Times titled “How Banks Could Return the Favor.” The article actually mentions Baton Rouge and the swap-related debt it apparently now has.
Also a study by the Refund Transit Coalition titled “Riding the Gravy Train” was mentioned in that NY Times article. There is an entire section about Baton Rouge in the study, and the study mentions toxic bond swaps and also the CATS tax. What is the solution to all of these issues with the sewerage project? I believe an independent outside group needs to investigate the engineering and the financing of the entire SSO sewer project.
I think our local government has a lot of explaining to do. I believe more taxpayers need to contact their government representative(s) about these two issues. If you just sit on the sidelines and watch the world go by, nothing will ever change.