Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, says he welcomes the help and support of businessman Jim Bernhard, who vowed in a speech Wednesday to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge to throw his time and money into solving Baton Rouge’s chronic gridlock, among other problems.
To that end, Carter is trying to build support ahead of the upcoming legislative session for a constitutional amendment that would allow specific regions around the state to tax themselves to pay for road and highway projects in their area.
Carter tried last year to raise the statewide gasoline tax by 17 cents to fund a variety of big ticket infrastructure projects. But the measure failed to garner enough support even to make it to the House floor for a vote.
Carter says he is hopeful this year he can convince lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment that would limit the tax to only specific regions that are willing to tax themselves, like the Capital Region, that are struggling with traffic problems.
“We haven’t had any naysayers yet,” Carter says. “But right now there are some questions we cannot answer like how much could we raise, and which parishes would be a part of it.”
The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the industry group CRISIS, which has been pushing for infrastructure improvements since its creation three years ago, are working with Carter on the legislation. If the Legislature approves the amendment, the reality of such a tax would likely be at least two elections and more than a year away. That’s because voters statewide would first have to approve the constitutional amendment to allow regions to tax themselves, then a local election would have to be held in any tax-seeking region to vote on a proposal, CRISIS Executive Director Scott Kirkpatrick says.
“We’re working through all that right now, checking it all out, doing the due diligence,” he says. “Like Jim (Bernhard), we want to work at where we can find solutions. There’s a lot of brainstorming going on.”
Kirkpatrick and Carter say they welcome the involvement of an industry leader like Bernhard, who founded The Shaw Group and, more recently, the multibillion-dollar private equity firm Bernhard Capital Partners.
“We’ll take any help we can get and he did a good job in motivating everybody at Rotary,” Carter says. “We’ll just see if their excitement leads to action.”