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Failure of Broome’s transportation tax sparks disappointment in business community

The Metro Council’s decision last night not to put Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s proposed roads tax on the November ballot is coming under fire from some business and industry groups.

“We are disappointed and frustrated,” says Ken Naquin, CEO of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, which publicly supported the 5-mill property tax. “If we want infrastructure improvements, better roads, drainage, less traffic, we have to pay for it.”

The council voted 5-5 on the measure, effectively killing it. Seven votes were needed to put the proposed tax on the ballot. The millage would have generated an estimated $440 million over the next 20 years to pay for infrastructure improvements and new smart traffic control systems. Two council members—Chandler Loup and Chauna Banks—left the room and were not present for the vote.

Naquin says while he understands concerns about higher taxes, he argues the area’s chronic gridlock is directly affecting the local economy.

“This is going to shut down economic development in the city,” he says. “I hear it from people every day. Businesses do not want to locate here.”

Metro Council members who voted against the measure say their decision was based on feedback from their constituents, who overwhelmingly opposed the tax.

But pollster Bernie Pinsonat, who conducted a poll in late June on the issue for a group of local business leaders, says that doesn’t correlate with his findings.

Some 63% of chronic voters surveyed between June 30 and July 3 by Pinsonat’s Southern Media and Opinion Research said they would support a dedicated tax if proceeds would be used specifically to address traffic congestion and if there was no controversy associated with those advocating for passage.

“There was clear support for this measure, if done right,” he says.

Some community leaders say even if there were legitimate concerns about the plan, voters should have been given an opportunity to weigh in. Boo Thomas, executive director of the Center for Planning Excellence, says she is particularly disappointed that Loupe and Banks didn’t cast a vote on the record.

“We elected them to represent us,” she says. “What does it mean when they don’t have the courage to stay in the room?”

The bigger question, though, is what now? Earlier this year, state lawmakers killed a proposed gas tax hike that would have funded big ticket infrastructure projects like a new bridge across the Mississippi River. Now, a local infrastructure tax measure is dead, too.

Surveys consistently show traffic congestion ranks as Baton Rouge’s biggest problem but too few voters trust government with the tax dollars needed to solve the problem.

In a statement this morning, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which supported the measure, says it’s time to go back to the drawing board and work together.

“We encourage the Metro Council and Mayor President to commit immediately to a plan of action on transportation for 2018, using this opportunity to gather broad based public input and seek infrastructure projects designed on the best solutions to address the traffic and infrastructure needs of the parish,” BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp says.

—Stephanie Riegel

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