As the internal politics of city hall in Baton Rouge have become more polarized, like most everywhere else, the Metro Council has become a significant barrier to getting mayoral initiatives before the voters.
Last year, in her first year in office, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome was blocked by the council in her attempt to put a property tax for roads on the ballot. She has now succeeded with a 10-2 vote of the council to put another roads issue on the ballot, this time a big increase in the sales tax. Members from the more Republican districts made it clear that it's the mayor's job to sell the plan.
As a marketer, Donald Trump she is not, but the arguments before the council, sound or exaggerated, are likely to be heard again — and again, because this tax is a very heavy lift.
Sure, the state — where Broome served for many years in the Legislature, although rarely as a dynamic figure there — has given city hall an opening by reducing the state sales tax rate from 5 percent to 4.45 percent.
That leaves, at least mathematically, money on the table. Broome asks now for double the amount the 2017 property tax proposal would have raised, asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for a roads bond issue that would raise $913 million.
Presenters at the council, which ranged from LSU professors to transportation planners and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, pointed to the tragic levels of traffic in the city-parish. Few will contest that there is $900 million or so of work to be done.
A big level of borrowing is necessary to even approach the widening or building of 40 new roads, as well as dealing with sidewalks and drainage. The biggest single project is Airline Highway widening, almost $100 million alone. Traditional bottlenecks would be addressed under Broome's plan.
Even with Baton Rouge levels of congestion, that's a long way from politically easy to sell.
And even after catastrophic flooding in 2016, a lot of people just don't grasp that costly drainage projects are necessary to help avoid floods. Go figure.
But for Broome, a low-key mayor compared with predecessor Kip Holden, it's not been a bad summer. Not only did the council put the roads tax on the ballot by a large majority, but it earlier approved a wide-ranging allocation of one-time money that included projects or initiatives for neighborhoods north and south.
As part of that deal, city administrator Darryl Gissel gained approval for outside experts to come in and reorganize the very traditional processes of city hall's tangled organizational intestines. The suggestions they generate may not be pretty, but they could be of major long-term benefit.
But the Dec. 8 vote on the roads tax is not just a date on the calendar, but a make-or-break occasion for the mayor's prestige going forward.
All politicians are somewhat risk-averse, but Broome has made caution a trademark. If it helped her in the Legislature, that image probably hurts her in city hall. This is not a drill.
Charlie Lancaster: The longtime legislator from Jefferson Parish died at 74, soon after his induction into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. Few deserved it more, just because of his extraordinary personality and capacity for friendship and fun. The over-used word, "colorful," was not invented for him, but it fit him perfectly.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.