Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's administration made their penultimate pitch to voters Monday to support her proposed MoveBR road tax before the Metro Council votes this week on whether to place the tax on the December ballot.
Broome told a group of 25 people Monday evening at the Jewel J. Newman Community Center in north Baton Rouge that she chose a sales tax, rather than a property tax, for her new iteration of the road improvement proposal because people complained her past attempt put too much of a burden on property owners. Broome said people encouraged her to pursue a sales tax instead, and repeatedly called it “more equitable.”
“I do not want to stagnate our progress by putting this off once again,” Broome said, referencing the Metro Council’s vote last year against placing her property tax proposal before the voters. “One of the consistent things I’ve heard from people, whether they’re in north Baton Rouge, south Baton Rouge, Mid City, is ‘Mayor, we have to do something about traffic.’”
Broome pointed out that the extra half-cent sales tax would cost 25 cents on $50 purchases and $2.50 on $500 purchases, and she said the tax would not apply to groceries or prescription drugs. The 30-year tax is expected to cost an extra $46.52 annually for a household making $75,000 a year.
State government — of which Broome is a veteran — has consistently grappled with questions about reliance on sales taxes for its services. Economists and watchdog groups have repeatedly chided Louisiana’s sales tax system as “regressive,” saying sales taxes affect the poor more than the rich. Baton Rouge’s most recent successful road tax, the Green Light tax which voters approved in 2005, was also a half-cent sales tax.
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Some who attended Monday’s meeting said they would support the sales tax in exchange for more services in north Baton Rouge, where economic development has lagged behind the rest of the parish. Longtime Scotlandville residents Henry and Irma Allen said they see road improvements and sidewalks as a potential incentive for grocery stores, drugstores, banks and other needed businesses to open near their neighborhood.
“We’re concerned about where we live,” Irma Allen said. “We’d like to keep it decent and we’re concerned about so many services not coming our way.”
Broome’s staffers have made their case across the parish for the proposed tax, but convincing voters and council members in north Baton Rouge could be especially important. Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who represents the district Broome visited Monday evening, has either been unsupportive or on the fence about previous road taxes.
Banks bemoaned previous road tax plans because they invested more money in south Baton Rouge — where traffic gridlock is known to be fiercest — than in her north Baton Rouge district. Last year, she did not vote on Broome's roads property tax proposal, which failed to garner enough council support to make the ballot. Banks did not attend Monday night’s meeting because she held a meeting about her district’s Elm Grove Garden apartments instead.
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Broome’s proposed sales tax is expected to raise $912 million for road projects across the parish. Big-ticket items in north Baton Rouge include additions of turn lanes, shoulders and drainage along Thomas Road between Highway 19 and Plank Road.
Director of Transportation and Drainage Fred Raiford said Thomas Road has been an especially dangerous route, with 62 wrecks and two fatalities between 2015 and 2017. He said he hopes the addition of sidewalks and filling in ditches could help to prevent wrecks in the future.
Broome has also proposed improvements at the Harding Boulevard/Interstate-110 intersection; and improvements on Scenic Highway between Harding Boulevard and Swan Avenue. Raiford said the city-parish is considering a roundabout at Scenic and Harding.
“To me, getting people off the Interstate is a safety issue,” Raiford said about the Harding/I-110 improvements, noting how traffic often backs up at the exit.
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Elsewhere in the parish, Broome's administration has proposed improvements to Airline Highway all the way from I-110 to Florida Boulevard and again from Bluebonnet Boulevard to the Ascension Parish line. Raiford highlighted the Airline Highway improvements and building a Pecue Lane/I-10 interchange as the two biggest projects in the plan, and said six-laning Airline Highway is important because it’s a hurricane evacuation route.
Money from the tax would also go toward widening and adding capacity to Hooper Road, Old Hammond Highway, Perkins Road, Tiger Bend Road and Wax Road/Magnolia Bridge Road. And the plan includes numerous locations to build sidewalks, including Drusilla Lane, Elm Grove Garden Drive, Mullen Drive, 72nd Street, Sherwood Forest Boulevard, Siegen Lane and South Harrell’s Ferry Road.
The MoveBR plan would also invest $40 million in traffic light synchronization and the advanced traffic management center.
“We’ll be able to change signals sitting behind a desk instead of sending people out,” Raiford said.
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Broome's administration will host a final public input meeting on the MoveBR tax on Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Zachary City Hall. The Metro Council is expected to vote on whether to place the roads tax, as well as a tax for a mental health facility, on the Dec. 8 ballot during their 4 p.m. Wednesday meeting at Baton Rouge City Hall.