A goose

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? Well, not quite if the gander happens to be downtown Baton Rouge and the goose turns out to be Livingston Parish.

When it comes to economic development assistance from the State, Livingston Parish’s goose is apparently cooked, while Baton Rouge’s gander gets millions from Governor Jindal and his henchmen.

What’s fair about that? Let’s take a look.

In 2005, the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, left the full city block in downtown Baton Rouge it occupied for decades and moved to the Swaggart complex on Bluebonnet Drive. This move left not only a large piece of abandoned property with an empty building, but it also took with it the 300 jobs or so The Advocate carries each and every day.

Downtown Baton Rouge, suffering for years like so many downtowns throughout America, took a big blow. The area had received a huge shot in the arm when Governor Mike Foster’s Commissioner of Administration Mark Drennen built buildings galore there and filled them with state jobs previously occupying rental real estate all over Baton Rouge. Still, The Advocate’s move closed down some eateries and made economic life a little harder in the oldest part of the city.

But never fear. The government is here, and it is here to help you.

This week, the East Baton Rouge metro council is expected to vote to approve a multi-million dollar deal that would use state funds to build a new building on the old site abandoned by the Advocate, and fill that building with jobs graciously provided by International Business Machines. The property will be purchased from the Manship family, owners of The Advocate, using a combination of state and local funds, and the new building will be erected on it using state and local money and state and local credit.

The state portion of the aid for the project is estimated to be $78.5 million. East Baton Rouge must approve its share which will amount to $3 million for the building, and another $1.5 million to “reimburse” IBM for training the local workforce they intend to house in the building.

International Business Machines was founded in New York in 1911, and has long been a component in the Dow Jones industrial average, the benchmark for New York Stock Exchange performance. The company’s total revenues in 2011 were $106.9 billion. IBM’s profit that year was $21.9 billion. Its total assets now measure over $120 billion, and it employed 434,246 people around the world as of December 31, 2012.

IBM initially intends to open in 2015 in downtown Baton Rouge with 800 office workers in an eight story building along North Street. Also planned is an 11-story residential development along Main Street that will include 95 apartments and nine luxury town homes. IBM will own both properties.

All of the state aid going to the downtown IBM project has been approved by Governor Bobby Jindal and his Department of Economic Development Director Stephen Moret. In fact, both actively point with pride to the deal, taking credit for the hard work required to induce IBM to accept this gift from Louisiana taxpayers.

The deal is a wonderful thing for downtown Baton Rouge, the Manship family, the Mayor of Baton Rouge, the Governor of Louisiana, and the head of Louisiana Economic Development. It is especially a wonderful thing for IBM which, as one of the world’s wealthiest entities, must be thanking their lucky stars for the generosity of Louisiana’s citizens.

Meanwhile, the private developers of Juban Crossing in Livingston Parish must be scratching their heads in wonder as IBM walks away with what will amount to hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, but the Louisiana-based Juban developers can’t even get the Governor to agree to allow those who shop in the development to pay for its road and drainage infrastructure.

While Jindal and Moret were cooking up the IBM deal with one hand, they were using the other to veto any attempt by the Legislature to provide infrastructure funding for the proposed multi-purpose Juban Crossing facility. Last year, state Senator Dale Erdey of Livingston gave up trying to reason with the creators of the IBM deal, and pushed through the Legislature a funding proposal of his own for Juban Crossing. Jindal wasted little time in vetoing that part of the state construction budget.

Again this year, with the IBM deal all but done, Erdey has put into the legislative hopper yet another attempt to fund Juban Crossing infrastructure with state sales taxes paid by shoppers inside the project when completed.

Making an economic distinction between the IBM deal on the one hand, and the Juban Road Crossing deal on the other will stretch Mr. Moret’s Harvard MBA training to the point of absurdity. There is no damn difference. Mr. Moret simply decided to give what will amount to $100 million or more to downtown Baton Rouge and International Business Machines, then turn around and thumb his nose at Livingston Parish and a group of Louisiana developers.

In short, Mr. Moret and Governor Jindal made a value judgment. They valued IBM and downtown Baton Rouge, and as for Livingston Parish … well, our goose is cooked.

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