You might think Mayor Sharon Weston Broome would have been in a celebratory mood after the Metro Council voted 10-2 to place her MoveBR roads tax proposal on the Dec. 8 ballot on Wednesday evening.
“The work is not over,” Broome said after the vote. “We’re going back out into the community … I said last year I would not give up. We have not given up.”
A year after the council rejected sending a similar tax proposal to voters, the council helped Broome clear her first hurdle on Wednesday with bipartisan support. The council shot down last year’s proposal by a 5-5 vote, with two members abstaining.
The difference this time around was the tax approach, some council members said. Broome is pursuing a half-cent sales tax that would be levied for 30 years, rather than the 5-mill property tax she floated last year. The mayor and council members said feedback from the public prompted the switch to a sales tax, which, though generally regarded as regressive, is viewed as more equitable among conservatives, because, unlike property taxes, everyone pays.
Councilman Trae Welch, a key Republican vote, spoke in support of the mayor’s proposal at the meeting, saying a sales tax is more palatable. He also noted the success of the last city-parish roads tax package: the Green Light plan.
“Over the years, it’s shown it was a good prioritization,” Welch said. “A ton of those projects have made a difference.”
The mayor also had strong support from the business community behind her roads tax pitch this year. Perhaps most notably, a group of local business leaders led by Jim Bernhard and Mike Wampold have vowed to fund an informational campaign to help voters understand how and where their money will be spent.
Jeff Koonce, general counsel at Bernhard Capital Partners, spoke at the meeting on behalf of Bernhard. The fact that business leaders are supporting a tax, he said, is reflective of just how big of a problem—both for motorists and economic development—traffic has become in Baton Rouge.
“I can’t believe I’m in front of a public body asking for a tax,” Koonce said. “We need to do something.”
Now the real challenge begins, as the mayor and her backers attempt to win over an increasingly anti-tax voter base. Councilman Dwight Hudson, who along with Denise Amoroso voted against putting the proposal on the ballot, said the city-parish needs to get its own fiscal house in order before it goes asking taxpayers for more money.
“I don’t think the voters trust us yet,” Hudson said.
The Metro Council also voted on two other big-issue items at Wednesday’s meeting:
- In an 8-3 vote, the council approved sending another tax to voters in December: a 1.5-mill property tax to fund a mental health facility known as the Bridge Center. The same proposal was narrowly defeated at the ballot box last year.
- The council once again deferred on voting to appoint a new airport director. The council failed to secure enough votes for either of the remaining candidates, Austin Futch or Derek Martin, and delayed the decision for another 30 days.