Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's first proposed tax package sputtered and crashed Wednesday when the Better Transportation and Roads plan lost its shot at appearing on the Nov. 18 ballot.
Broome's bid to build more than 40 infrastructure projects to alleviate traffic congestion, synchronize traffic lights and pave sidewalks crumbled Wednesday on a 5-5 Metro Council vote that was 2 votes short of the 7 needed to put the proposal on the ballot.
Some Metro Council members said they have been bombarded with messages from constituents who opposed a new property tax addressing transportation when drainage and public safety concerns have come to the forefront in Baton Rouge.
The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council's decision Wednesday on whether or not to put the …
The property tax would have cost most homeowners between $50 and $200 a year, generating $445 million to spend on traffic and mobility improvements across the parish. Despite the loss, Broome was upbeat after the vote about the process leading up to it with public meetings and a rare civil debate on the Metro Council.
"Of course I'm disappointed that the BTR plan was not allowed to be on the ballot for people to vote on it," Broome said in an interview after the vote. "But I'm very proud of the work we've done because, you know, leadership means that you come up with some bold and innovative ideas, and that's what we did with the BTR plan."
But opposition to the tax proposal ranged from it not being a priority right now to concerns about the way the proposal was structured.
"It's an imbalanced proposal," said Jeffrey Welsh of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors, who spoke at the meeting. "Not all drivers own property and not all property owners drive."
The trade group opposed the property tax, with Herb Gomez from the organization saying transportation improvements are better paid for via gasoline taxes.
State Judge Don Johnson also spoke against the tax, saying public safety needs to come first.
"Economic development, I'm all for," Johnson said. "Road improvements, I'm all for. But I've got to be safe first. And our community is not safe."
People who live in Kenilworth, Southdowns and other pockets of south Baton Rouge grappled Tu…
Supporters of the tax included the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the leader of Louisiana Associated General Contractors. Ken Naquin of LAGC said Baton Rouge can no longer afford the status quo as traffic worsens and roads fall into disrepair.
Both Naquin and Broome pointed to jobs that could be created from building new infrastructure in Baton Rouge.
BRAC also used an analysis from the Capital Region Planning Commission to determine that the BTR package was expected to reduce more than 1 million annual hours of delay for drivers across the parish. The congestion relief BTR would have offered was twice the estimated congestion relief that would come from adding a lane in each direction on Interstate 10 from the Mississippi River Bridge to the I-10/I-12 split, according to a regional project analysis BRAC cited.
Barbara Freiberg became the most vocal council member in her support for the BTR tax plan, and she was the only Republican on the council who voted to put it on the ballot. She implored her fellow council members to look at lists of wrecks on major thoroughfares across the city-parish and to see how the proposed projects would make those streets safer.
"It's been a very, very long time in this community since we've invested money into our infrastructure improvements," said Councilwoman Tara Wicker.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis offered her support to the BTR tax with a caveat: She asked Broome to commit to a disparity study for City Hall to adopt stronger requirements for minority and disadvantaged business participation in city-parish contracts.
Broome said she has no problem with such a study. But she also reminded council members that the job and contract opportunities could exist only if they took the first step in placing the tax proposal on the ballot.
Broome's former assistant chief administrative officer, James Gilmore — who left his job less than two weeks ago — attended the meeting and told council members to think about ways in which they could recruit businesses owned by minorities and women to work on BTR projects.
A contract for public outreach for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's proposed Better Tr…
Councilman Matt Watson, often a key swing vote, said he could not vote in favor of placing the tax proposal on the ballot because his constituents have been insistent about their displeasure with it.
Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who often votes in step with Broome, said she could not support the plan because of its lack of projects in her district. "I do agree that everyone should have the right to vote," Banks said. "But I have a responsibility not to put matters before people that I myself would not want before me."
Councilman Trae Welch also said he could not support the BTR tax plan because the rededication of a half-cent sales tax for road overlays would mean that some of the originally promised projects in the 2005 Green Light program would not be completed. He said it would set a bad precedent and would increase distrust in government to vote for a tax plan that broke a promise from a previous one.
Voting against placing the tax on the ballot: Welch, Watson, Buddy Amoroso, Dwight Hudson and Scott Wilson.
Voting in favor: Wicker, Freiberg, Collins-Lewis, Erika Green and LaMont Cole.
Though both Banks and Chandler Loupe attended the meeting and participated in the discussion, both walked away from their seats and did not return to vote on the tax proposal.
"I feel like we laid a great foundation," Broome said afterward. "It's just a matter of choice, and obviously five members of the council made the choice not to put it on the ballot."