Baton Rouge-area Congressman Garret Graves (R) today applauded Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s effort to revamp transportation in the region, but criticized her approach of using a property tax to raise money.
“(Transportation) has been funded historically by a user fee, by a gas tax,” Graves told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “I think sticking to that is critical.”
That may be true at the statewide level, but most of Baton Rouge’s most recent surface street construction projects have been funded from the dedicated sales tax associated with the Green Light Plan. Also, prior to Green Light the city-parish regularly used sales taxes from a pothole tax to fund pay-as-you-go transportation projects. Moreover, local governments are currently prohibited from levying gas taxes under the state constitution, though Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, has said he intends to push for a constitutional amendment to give local governments the ability to do so, especially on a regional basis.
Broome last month unveiled her Better Transportation and Roads plan, a 5-mil property tax similar to the Green Light Plan II that would fund transportation and infrastructure projects throughout the parish. Graves earlier this spring was one of the keynote speakers at a summit of the same name Broome organized to galvanize transportation initiatives.
Graves also threw his support behind Carter, who tried unsuccessfully earlier this year to increase the state’s gasoline tax. Graves said the Capital Region has long been mistreated by the state’s prioritization program and does not get its fair share of current gas tax dollars. There are a variety of factors behind that, including, until recently, disorganization within the Capital Regional Legislative delegation.
Graves also touched on a wide range of other topics:
- Flood recovery: The congressman took thinly-veiled shots at the Gov. John Bel Edwards administration’s handling of flood recovery efforts. Edwards and Graves have sparred publicly for months about the multi-billion-dollar flood recovery program that involves both congressional and state leaders, and Graves said the money has not gotten to victims quickly enough.
- BRAVE: Graves joined other Republican leaders—from Sen. John Kennedy to local Metro Council members—in criticizing local officials’ handling of the BRAVE violence prevention program. Controversy has swirled since the federal government announced it would not renew Baton Rouge’s money for the program and it was revealed that Broome awarded a contract to a local activist who made controversial comments at a recent Metro Council meeting.
- Health care: When asked whether he thinks the majority of his constituents wanted him to vote ‘yes’ on the House proposal to repeal and replace parts of the Affordable Care Act, Graves said the vast majority of people in his district think they’re paying too much for health care. Graves joined a majority of his House Republican colleagues in passing a bill that would overhaul the federal health care system. The Senate has since struggled to find consensus on its replacement measure.
Graves did not believe the House bill would ultimately become law in the same form in which it passed the chamber, he added, calling it a “vehicle” for the repeal-and-replace he and many other Republicans campaigned on.