Bused or Bust?

Let me start by saying that if you don’t get this month’s cover because you don’t know who Sarah McLachlan is and/or have never seen her famously depressing ASPCA commercial, I envy you, but not because I don’t like her music. (Of course, even if I didn’t like her music, I still wouldn’t say so. I wouldn’t want to piss off my lesbian friends.)

No, I envy you because you’re still capable of hearing the song “Angel” without disturbing images of abused and neglected cats and dogs coming to mind. Seriously, for millions of people like me, that song is forever inextricably linked to shivering, emaciated puppies.

That commercial is by far the most depressing thing ever aired on American TV, even more so than all the Waltons reunion movies put together. Watching that entire commercial is enough to make Zig Ziglar tap a keg of Zoloft.

It’s almost as disheartening as hearing that the Capital Area Transit System is attempting to avert yet another financial crisis. This time, CATS is facing a $2.1 million budget deficit because of the loss of federal and state funds.

Last year, CATS was staring at a $1.4 million shortfall but was rescued by a private donation and some federal grants. I’m no city planner, but that doesn’t seem like the best way to fund a mass transit system.

Maybe they’re saving their pennies to pay the Tiger Athletic Foundation’s next fee hike for LSU football tickets, parking, and Mike the Tiger’s pedicures.

So now, in an effort to procure permanent funding, the CATS Board of Commissioners managed to get a property tax proposal on the ballot this April. If approved, it could bring in about $18 million in additional revenue, increasing the system’s budget from $12.6 million to around $30 million.

For you math wizzes, that’s almost a 150% increase in the operating budget, primarily funded by people who never have ridden and never will ride a CATS bus.

Given the current attitude in this town toward new taxes and the traditional attitude toward mass transit, Together Baton Rouge “” the coalition promoting the tax proposal “” could certainly benefit from McLachlan’s help. However, I doubt even her warm, Canadian visage and powerfully emotional ballads would be enough to overcome the political and cultural climate in Baton Rouge.

First, it’s been years since East Baton Rouge Parish voters approved a new tax. Maybe they’re saving their pennies to pay the Tiger Athletic Foundation’s next fee hike for LSU football tickets, parking, and Mike the Tiger’s pedicures.

Secondly, and more importantly, the majority of people around here don’t see mass transit as a public service. Rather, they view helping fund CATS as welfare. They’re vehemently opposed to paying for something they believe would only be used by people who can’t afford reliable personal transportation.

And there’s the subtext to this whole argument that too many people are afraid to admit. It’s a decades-old paradigm that will continue to scuttle any attempt to create a viable, flourishing public transit system in the Capital City.

Opponents of increased funding insist taxpayers shouldn’t pay more for buses when “CATS suffers from almost nonexistent ridership.” With regard to those who do want increased funding for CATS, they say things like “We are dealing with the entitlement crowd.”

In other words, why give away money for CATS when hardly anyone rides the bus anyway? Besides, those people who do ride the bus are a bunch of freeloaders who should get a job and buy a car.

And people wonder why we can’t keep our best and brightest minds here after they graduate. It’s sucky attitudes like that that create the vortex know as “the brain drain.”

Here’s a little anecdote. I have a brother-in-law in Fort Worth who’s an attorney. When he worked at his previous job, he frequently rode the bus on his daily commute. And no, he didn’t live in the ‘hood. The bus route actually passed by his lovely neighborhood.

Not only did he save money on gas and parking in downtown Fort Worth, he got lots of stuff done (read the paper, checked his email, etc.) on the way to work and back. Also, since he didn’t have to deal with driving in rush hour traffic, his stress levels were much lower when he arrived at his destination, which is great because, as you might recall, he’s an attorney.

Of course, even there, people made fun of him for using public transit when he could more than afford to drive. However, they quit poking fun once gas prices went through the roof, which could very well happen again. Then again, some might argue gas prices still haven’t come back under the roof.

I know what you’re saying: “This is Baton Rouge, not Fort Worth.” You’re right. Fort Worth is so much cooler than Baton Rouge.

In the interest of full disclosure, though, I must admit that I’m not completely sold on the property tax proposal. The 10.6 mills would cost someone like me with a modest home value of $157,000 around $14 a month. That’s not exactly pocket change for something I’ll likely seldom, if ever, use.

See, I actually want a strong CATS system, but even I’m on the fence about this tax proposal. So just imagine how hard of a sell it’ll be to the rest of the parish.

Maybe Together Baton Rouge can produce a commercial with all the folks who depend on CATS to get to their minimum wage and thankless jobs at restaurants and nursing homes where they fix our food and take care of our elderly. And maybe they could have Sarah McLachlan interview them while “Angel” plays in the background.

On second thought, scratch that. Everybody would flip the channel faster than you can say “helpless kitten.”

About Jeremy White

Jeremy White
Jeremy White is an engineer by education, but a smartass by birth. He managed to overcome the obstacles presented by his technical background, and has brilliantly devised a way to make a living making fun of people.

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