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Newsmaker of the Week: Mayor Sharon Weston Broome

You might think Mayor Sharon Weston Broome would have been in a celebratory mood after the Metro Council voted 10-2 Wednesday evening to place her MoveBR roads tax proposal on the Dec. 8 ballot.

She wasn’t. After an intensive week of informational community meetings about MoveBR, Broome says she has more work to do to get voters to support the plan.

“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.”

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.

For the mayor and other supporters of the plan, the biggest challenge will be convincing an increasingly anti-tax voter base that money raised by the tax will be well-spent. 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 Wednesday.

Perhaps not, but Broome has some high-powered friends committed to helping her educate the public about how the tax money will be spent and why it’s so badly needed.

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 on the effort. Earlier this week, he said he wants to help launch an advertising campaign for the tax and 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.

Developer Mike Wampold and a handful of other local business leaders, including the owners of Turner Industries and Benny’s Car Wash, also have committed financial support to help the initiative.

“Mike and I don’t want to spend more taxes, but it will help the economy, help jobs, help downtown,” Bernhard said. “We are going to make sure everybody understands the quantity of dollars this is going to raise and exactly which roads are going to get fixed.”

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