As Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s administration conducts a series of educational meetings over the next two weeks to promote a proposed roads tax, key business leaders are vowing to support the plan known as MOVEBR—provided the Metro Council approves putting the tax measure on the Dec. 8 ballot.
Among them is real estate developer Mike Wampold and investor Jim Bernhard, who earlier this year teamed up to donate $540,000 to a crime-fighting initiative in the parish known as TRUCE.
Now, they’re turning their attention to the proposed roads tax, which would raise the parish sales tax by a half-cent and generate as much as $912 million over the next 30 years to fund 60 road projects designed to help alleviate chronic traffic congestion.
“This is something Baton Rouge has to have to be able to move forward,” Wampold says. “We suffer from chronic gridlock that is holding us back from growth and economic development. The mayor’s done a good job on this and it’s a really good plan.”
If the proposal makes it on the ballot, Wampold says he will lend financial support to public relations and outreach campaigns, but adds it’s too soon to say yet how much those efforts might cost. The focus of the campaign will be on accountability and education.
“It’s going to be an educational deal that explains exactly what we’re proposing, who’s going to oversee it, and that the money is going to be spent on roads, not bureaucracy,” he says. “It’s hard to get a tax passed in Baton Rouge. But with (former Mayor Kip Holden’s) last one, it didn’t miss by much—and the piece that was missing was the PR effort that should have gone with it.”
In 2016, voters narrowly defeated Holden’s Green Light II plan, which contained many of the same elements now in the MOVEBR proposal, though it would have been funded by a dedicated millage rather than a sales tax. Last fall, Broome tried with her own version of the plan, but the Metro Council refused to even put it on the ballot.
It’s not clear that public sentiment has changed since then, but it is a well-established fact that taxpayers rank gridlock as the region’s top problem. And this time around the business community is getting behind the effort.
Though the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s board of directors has not yet met to formally vote on the MOVEBR tax, BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says the chamber likes what it has seen of the proposal.
“While our board doesn’t meet on this until August, BRAC staff is engaging deeply on this already through our work on transportation issues,” Knapp says. “So far, our review finds that the projects in the list match up well with needed capacity for traffic relief. We are encouraging the business community’s input during the next two weeks of public meetings prior to its review by the Metro Council.”
Bernhard could not be reached for comment. The council is scheduled to vote on the proposal Aug. 8. If passed, it would be placed on the Dec. 8 ballot.