Taking an unusual step for Louisiana politicians, all four candidates for a legislative seat representing southeast Baton Rouge said Monday that they were open to charging tolls or increasing taxes to address the city’s strangled traffic.
“I wouldn’t say ‘for taxes,’ nobody is for taxes, but I am open to it. It has to be on the table,” said Susan Nelson, who is a lawyer running without party affiliation in the Feb. 21 special election to replace Republican state Rep. Hunter Greene. Greene resigned after being elected to a seat on the Family Court for East Baton Rouge Parish.
Republicans Buddy Amoroso, Rick Bond and Darrell Ourso also told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that they too would be open to the possibilities of taxes or tolls.
“We need to find a way to fund transportation,” said Bond, an investment adviser making his first run for public office. “You got to have people willing to look at the ‘all-the-above’ approach on funding.”
Ourso says Baton Rouge voters can make an informed choice if the options are explained.
Past money-raising efforts have met with stiff opposition from voters and elected officials alike. It’s rare to hear talk of taxes and tolls on the campaign trail.
All four candidates say that while not their first choice, correcting and expanding roads and highways in Baton Rouge would require a lot of money.
All four recounted horror stories of Baton Rouge being shut down because of wrecks on Interstate 10 choking traffic. They pointed to the latest example, Jan. 30, when a fatal collision on the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge led to a traffic jam lasting longer than four hours.
“When there’s an accident on the Mississippi River Bridge, it basically shuts down Baton Rouge,” said Amoroso, a Baton Rouge Metro Councilman. “We have to make a commitment.”
Tolls and taxes may not be the first option but it can’t be removed from consideration, Amoroso said, echoing the comments of the other candidates.
A founding member of “Tax Busters,” a group that has successfully thwarted revenue measures in the past, the Baton Rouge metro councilman says as a legislator he would work to ensure that state money set aside for highway projects is not diverted to pay other bills in state government.
“The gas tax, we should all commit to taking a serious look at it,” Bond said.
Right now, with the price of a gallon of gasoline below $2, an increase in the tax on gasoline would not be felt as greatly by consumers. “It would generate a great deal of revenue with negligible impact. But we have to look at all the options,” Nelson said.
Ourso, who served on the Metro Council from 1999 to 2008 and is now a financial adviser, said he would want to make any revenue raising ideas like taxes and tolls part of an overall package that would require a vote before being implemented.
House District 66 stretches from Interstate 12 to Bayou Manchac, including Woodland Ridge, Old Jefferson, Santa Maria, Tiger Bend, the Country Club of Louisiana and many of the neighborhoods that would make up the city of St. George, if the residents there voted to incorporate.
The secretary of state counts 14,969 registered Republicans among the district’s 30,744 voters, 80 percent of whom are white.
Early voting in the special election began Feb. 7 and runs until Saturday. Polls are open from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. A runoff election between the two highest vote-getters is scheduled for March 28, if none of candidates wins a majority in the Feb. 21 primary.
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