One of the biggest challenges citizens of any city, state, or country face is cutting through the massive amounts of BS and posturing dispensed by elected officials, particularly around election time. During elections, our politicos love to lay it on thick and heavy while pandering to their base. Often, this results in factually inaccurate or baseless statements and opinions which can be readily dismissed with only the most limited amount of research, if one were to bother doing it.
One way that I hope this blog helps enhance your understanding of the workings of government in Baton Rouge is by providing links to publicly available information so you can verify the veracity of claims and statements made by our always entertaining politicos. While just about every politician engages in this kind of unfounded statement making, I decided to grab the most recent one that I was aware of because it involves a pretty hotly contested issue: the Capital Area Transit System (CATS) tax election.
About a week ago, the Business Report quoted Mayor Pro-Tempore Mike Walker on the AG's opinion concerning the application of the homestead exemption to this property tax. (NB: During the election, everyone believed homestead exemption would not apply, but the AG believes it does.) Walker stated: "[N]ow I'm wondering if we shouldn't turn around and ask the AG for another opinion on whether or not the entire tax was really legal... Because if the AG doesn't consider this gerrymandered district to be a municipality, then I don't know how they can legally hold a tax election."
The answer to the question is: No you shouldn't. There's no reason to waste the AG's time when the answer is explicitly spelled out in the laws that created CATS. Revised Statute Title 48 (Roads, Bridges, & Ferries), Chapters 1451 through 1461 deal with CATS and its ability to levy taxes. Chapter 1460, Section 12 spells the authority out explicitly.
"[T]he board may exercise its powers of taxation within any local governmental subdivision or subdivisions located wholly within the territorial area of participating parishes provided only that the proposed tax must be approved by a majority of voters voting on the proposition within the affected local governmental subdivision or subdivisions at an election held in accordance with the Louisiana Election Code."
In other words, CATS can call for a popular vote and levy taxes within any city located within East Baton Rouge Parish or the Parish as a whole. Pretty clearly stated and really not that difficult to find.
You might be asking yourself, how do I find this kind of information? Luckily, the State Legislature has graciously provided a searchable database of the entirety of our State Constitution (which is, by the way, massive). Wait, you don't know how to get to the State Legislature's website? OK, since you asked...
Join me next week as I preview the excitement and adventure of our next Metro Council meeting! They've been wildly heated as of late and are likely to continue through November (see the first paragraph for why that may be the case).
P.S. Are there other possible constitutional challenges to the CATS tax? Possibly.. Scott McKay's (no relation) site, The Hayride, has an opinion from an unidentified legal beagle. It's an interesting argument, albeit one based on 40-year-old case law that would have been decided using the old Constitution rather than the 1974 version, although I'm unaware if there were any changes to those particular areas. We'll just have to see if anyone brings suit on those grounds.
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