It takes a village to pass a tax, and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is at great pains to portray the backing of a coalition of supporters on behalf of her big increase for roads and bridges on the Dec. 8 ballot.
Keeping her remarks at the Baton Rouge Press Club short, she asked a bevy of tax supporters to come to the mike and talk about the traffic problems that snarl up life and business in the capital city.
Along the way, she and the tax backers hit some important political markers.
Everybody is in the giant plan with projects in traditionally anti-tax areas like Central and Zachary. “Every part of our parish is touched by this plan,” Broome said.
The plan is The Plan. “It can’t be tampered with,” Broome said, because the projects on the long list to be funded by a half-cent sales tax increase is set by law and won’t be changed. This, she said, addresses “the trust factor,” to ensure that voters’ will is reflected in the results.
In a nod to the reality of doing almost $1 billion in projects over a dozen or 15 years, she said the projects will have to be managed by a construction planning firm to make sure the work is done efficiently.
Finally, she and her backers appealed to chronic voters who are likely to turn out for a relatively unexciting election, older folks: EMS and first-responder vehicles “get stuck in traffic, too,” the mayor said.
She was supported by prominent leaders in the medical community, Suzy Sonnier of the Health District around south Baton Rouge’s big hospitals and Edgardo Tenreiro of Baton Rouge General. The latter is a relative newcomer to Baton Rouge, and he learned right off that traffic problems are grist of daily conversation.
As a CEO, he added, delaying the work won’t make it cheaper. “Time is of the essence,” he said. “We can’t let perfection get in the way of improvement.”
That pragmatic approach was also mentioned by business leader Jim Bernhard: “We cannot do a perfect plan because there is no such thing.”
But for Bernhard and Jennifer Dunphy of ExxonMobil’s chemical plant, investing in basic infrastructure including roads and bridges — although they also noted education as another high priority — is vital to the future of this city, as it is anywhere.
Dunphy said that her company plans to invest $20 billion in Gulf Coast operations in the coming years and Baton Rouge competitiveness is vital to snagging more of those projects. “One of the things they look at is infrastructure,” she said.
That is the theme that mayors long before Broome have tried to stress, often enough taking a bruising politically when they try to pass a tax plan. Remember the Horizon Plan from Tom Ed McHugh in the 1990s?
The mayor said she sees her job as looking to the future. “It is about governing 10, 20 or even 50 years down the road,” she said, arguing that investing in transportation will “set us up for long-term growth” in the coming decades.
Given the lack of investment so often in Baton Rouge, this is a difficult argument to oppose, but the Dec. 8 tax is also a significant new expense at the cash register.
But Broome, who served many years in the Legislature, did not neglect to mention one of the constitutional changes in the Stelly Plan, the last big state tax reform of 2002: Sales taxes are not levied on groceries, prescription drugs and residential utilities.
Email Lanny Keller at email@example.com.
On Dec. 8, voters will face important propositions in East Baton Rouge and Lafayette parishes, along with a runoff election for secretary of s…