In a building where political landmines abound, many state legislators are cautious about where they stand, and none in the State Capitol was more so than Sharon Weston Broome. In the House and Senate, she was the despair of lobbyists, who often don’t have that much time to tend to individual legislators who will not commit to a vote until the last minutes of a debate.
As one of the relatively few women in the Legislature when she was elected, quite often her legislative initiatives were focused on families, housing and other issues not that exciting to the dominant culture of the ol’ boys’ club.
During Broome's time as mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, there have been almost two full years of concern, if not backbiting criticism, that she was not pushing the city forward, and avoiding controversies — except those, like her initial stumbling hire of an unqualified person for city administrator, she wandered into on her own.
Well, when the church lady did decide to roll the dice, she won — and big.
With more than 44,000 voting for and fewer than 29,000 against, a half-cent sales tax increase won Saturday. That turnout was not high, but not negligible; in fact, MovEBR, as they dubbed the tax plan, probably hit a sweet spot, with anti-tax precincts not turning out big, but the institutional vote of City Hall and major employers backing traffic reforms having a substantial impact on the result.
The $913 million in road and bridge improvements the new tax will finance almost certainly will not be complete when Broome leaves office, even if she serves a full three terms. Politically, though, should she seek a second term in 2020, is there any doubt that dozens of groundbreakings and other such events will not be a significant help to her?
Of course, Broome had a lot of help. Her request before the Metro Council to call the election was buoyed by private polls, and MovEBR supporters like businessmen Jim Bernhard and Mike Wampold — a bipartisan dynamic duo — raised money to boost the issues at the ballot box. (The mayor also supported a smaller tax proposal to fund a Bridge Center to try to keep the mentally ill out of Parish Prison. It won by an even bigger percentage.) Endorsements by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, labor and other groups also helped.
But if they helped, it was Broome’s persistence that won.
The council in 2017 turned down an election for the Broome-proposed property tax for roads, dubbed BTR or Better Transportation and Roads plan. She did not give up, but switched to a sales tax after the 2018 Legislature reduced the state levy by a half-cent.
Broome leaped at it, even though she acknowledged that she was not so fond of sales taxes. Still, she told the Press Club of Baton Rouge before the election, under the Louisiana Constitution sales taxes are not levied on groceries, prescription drugs or residential utilities.
Rather nonsensically, to economists, the notion was sold that a sales tax levy would be paid by travelers, as if Baton Rouge is a tourist Mecca like New Orleans. In fact, all taxes come out of the local economy and are paid by consumers one way or another; a property tax would have been factored into the cost of whatever visitors bought in town, too.
Nevertheless, she won the argument via the most convincing process, at the polls. Having talked to dozens of groups in person, she became the public face of the tax plan. It worked.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.