Mayor Sharon Weston Broome is wrapping up a last minute push to firm up Metro Council support for her first major policy initiative, a property tax dedicated to transportation improvements. Council members are set to vote this afternoon on whether to put the tax on the November ballot.
The mayor in recent days has held one-on-one meetings with council members and her administration has met with members of CRISIS, an industry-led group that advocated for a gasoline tax increase earlier this year. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber this morning came out in support of the plan. On Tuesday evening, Broome held the final public meeting designed to inform voters and answer questions about the Better Transportation and Roads plan in Republican Metro Councilman Matt Watson’s district, and she will continue meeting with council members ahead of today’s meeting.
Broome is asking the council to let the public vote on a 5-mill property tax dedicated to road and traffic improvements.
“I feel very optimistic,” Broome says. “For me it’s a very simple ask: Put the initiative on the ballot and let the community decide.”
The genesis of Broome’s proposal came from the public’s desire for better roads and less traffic congestion, the mayor says. Broome notes that lawmakers, over the more than two decades she was in the state Legislature, repeatedly debated a loop project but never pulled the trigger. “I don’t want to spend another 24 years” debating whether to do something about traffic, she says.
Critics argue the proposal is too similar to former Mayor Kip Holden’s failed Green Light Plan 2. They also say the city should prioritize drainage over transportation and that residents don’t want higher taxes. Watson expressed concern about how the process has played out so far, wondering why the mayor didn’t hold a public meeting in his district until a day before the council is set to vote on the matter.
The council last month hired CSRS to help with public outreach on the BTR plan, but Watson says the proposal has been rushed from the start—from putting together the project list to informing constituents to rallying council votes.
“I’m afraid it might be too little, too late for the people of District 11,” he says. “I haven’t heard one iota of support from people in my district. I’m certainly getting a flood of people telling me to vote against it.”
But the mayor’s meetings with council members could prove useful. Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who represents a portion of north Baton Rouge, has criticized several aspects of the plan in recent weeks, citing a lack of projects in her district and Broome’s failure to involve council members earlier. After meeting with the mayor Tuesday, Banks says she still has some consternation, but the mayor assuaged some of her concerns about the project list and made a compelling point that the proposal simply allows the public to vote on the tax. Nonetheless, Banks says she remains undecided.
Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, who along with Watson has been a swing vote in the past on the council, says she intends to support the proposal. Freiberg, who attended a presentation by former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy on Tuesday afternoon, said Murphy’s plea to Baton Rouge leaders to make bold, intentional choices to reinvigorate the city resonated with her.
“It’s a tough one,” she says. “I know that there’s probably a lack of confidence of some folks in this city about city government, how it’s being operated … I think the projects and the maintenance system show an intentionality to make this city better and change this city.”