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Bernhard ready to launch MoveBR informational campaign if council places it on ballot

If the Metro Council approves placing Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s MoveBR roads tax proposal on the Dec. 8 ballot at its meeting this evening, key business leaders plan to fund an informational campaign designed to help voters understand exactly how and where their money will be spent.

Jim Bernhard—who founded and ran The Shaw Group and now heads a more than $2 billion private equity firm, Bernhard Capital Partners—has been among those working behind the scenes to encourage council members to bring the tax measure to a vote of the people.

Bernhard says he’s spoken to all 12 council members over the past few weeks and feels his message “was well received.”

If the vote on the 30-year, half-cent sales tax is allowed to move forward, Bernhard says the campaign will focus on specifics of the tax package and accountability.

“We are going to make sure everybody understands the quantity of dollars this will raise and then which roads are going to get fixed,” he says. “We’re going to make sure everyone understands what they’re voting on and that this isn’t just another tax.”

Bernhard also hopes to tie the local roads tax issue to the larger Capital Region effort under way to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River somewhere south of Baton Rouge.

During the legislative sessions earlier this year, lawmakers approved creation of a five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge District tasked with finding a way to finance and develop the new span, estimated to cost more than $1.5 billion when the cost of an access loop around the parish is factored in.

Bernhard says financing will not be a problem for the bridge, which is envisioned as a toll bridge.

“I don’t think that will be difficult to finance because if someone doesn’t finance it we will at BCP,” he says. “That is not something we are seeking, but I can tell you from the private equity aspect there is money available for that bridge, period.”

The challenge, however, will come from getting voter approval in the five parishes that comprise the district for the new bridge plan and the construction of crucial access roads through theirs parishes. Bernhard is confident if voters in the five parishes approve a plan, which could come as soon as this spring, a new bridge will be built within a decade.

“I am 100 percent confident if the elections pass the bridge will be built, maybe in seven or eight years,” he says. “If the elections don’t pass there will not be infrastructure to get to and from the bridge.”

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