Seven is the magic number on the third floor of City Hall, but Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome wasn't able to conjure it up this week.
Broome said she assembled civic associations, contractors and business interests in her quest for the seven votes on the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council required to place her Better Transportation and Roads tax on Nov. 18 ballots. But the effort fell short, and some council members said afterward that lobbying for the road tax seemed more half-hearted than usual.
"Usually when we have important tax measures like this, I hear from people in the business community, neighborhood associations, a wide range of people," said Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe, who mentioned the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Area Foundation as both being quieter than usual. "I didn't get that this time."
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While council members said it was refreshing to meet with Broome one-on-one about the tax plan, it was also the only meeting some had in support of it.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks said the only people who asked her to support the BTR tax were those working inside Broome's administration.
Councilman Buddy Amoroso, meanwhile, said contractors who usually ask him to support infrastructure taxes did not put their usual pressure on him to support placing the road tax on the ballot.
"It shows a lack of buy-in from the community," Amoroso added. "Typically, Baton Rouge Realtors have been in favor of these types of taxes. Typically, the business community are the staunchest lobbyers for this, but I didn't hear from anybody."
Broome and BRAC CEO Adam Knapp both defended the lobbying efforts that went into getting the tax placed on the ballot, despite the result. Baton Rouge Area Foundation spokesman Mukul Verma said that group had no comment on the failed effort to put the road tax before voters.
Although BRAC only publicly endorsed the BTR tax hours ahead of time the morning of the vote, Knapp said the chamber had actively pushed behind the scenes for it and timed the public endorsement to coincide with the voting.
Amoroso confirmed he and Knapp spoke about the tax a few days before the vote, but said he did not hear from BRAF.
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Knapp said members of the business community were excited about a plan to unclog arterial streets in Baton Rouge, and he complimented Broome's process of "building grassroots support."
Grassroots support for the plan, however, was not evident at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting, where only a handful of people spoke about the tax during the public comment period.
Ken Naquin, of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, was the only one who spoke in support of the tax along with members of Broome's administration, while four people at the hearing asked council members not to approve it.
Broome said it was her understanding that BRAC started supporting and lobbying for the tax plan before her administration even announced on July 26 the list of road projects that would be funded by the tax. Though BRAC is generally supportive of infrastructure and traffic improvements, Knapp said in a July 21 interview that BRAC had not seen enough details about the BTR tax to take a stance on the tax measure and said then that the chamber would make a decision after the project list was released.
In addition to meeting with BRAC, Broome said, she had meetings with civic associations that supported the BTR tax.
"From my perspective, we did have a coalition working to put this on the ballot," Broome said in an interview about the tax failure.
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The five Metro Council members who voted against placing the 5-mill property tax on ballots offered a variety of reasons why they disagreed with it. Some did not like the way projects were spread out, others disliked the discontinuation of the 2005 Green Light Plan and a couple said they simply could not support a property tax for roads when drainage was their first priority.
But they also mentioned that the voices of people asking them to vote against the property tax were far louder than the voices of those asking them to support it.
Pollster and president of JMC Enterprises John Couvillon recalled the coalition of voters that it took for Broome to win the mayor-president's race last year — both her base of mostly black voters in north Baton Rouge and white, moderate voters in downtown, mid-city and along Perkins Road. But with the BTR tax, Broome lost support from both a council member who represented her base, Banks, and was unable to convince more than one Republican to support placing the tax on ballots.
"She has to keep together the coalition that elected her," Couvillon said.
Broome's administration not being fully staffed and having to struggle to deal with questions about BRAVE grants and other controversies "creates the impression that not all is well and those more moderate voters peel off," he said.
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Democrats LaMont Cole, Donna Collins-Lewis, Tara Wicker and Erika Green voted in favor of the tax plan along with Republican Barbara Freiberg. Republicans Trae Welch, Scott Wilson, Dwight Hudson, Matt Watson and Amoroso voted against it.
Loupe and Banks were at the meeting but not at their seats when the vote happened, but both said they would have voted against it and their votes would not have helped Broome reach seven. Loupe said he left the room to have a conversation, thinking he would be back at his seat in time for the vote.
"It was very difficult to not support the mayor's agenda item knowing it meant so much to her," Banks explained for why she missed the vote. "I went to the bathroom to collect myself and when I came back, it was over with."