EBR voters approve sales tax for roads

Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish on Dec. 8 did something rarely done these days. They supported a one-half percent local sales tax designed to ease traffic problems throughout that area by a margin of 61-to-39 percent. Other local governments might benefit from the Baton Rouge experience.

The timing of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s proposal, public fatigue over traffic and a well-executed campaign for the half-cent MovEBR sales tax did the trick, according to The Advocate of Baton Rouge. An annual survey by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber found traffic congestion to be the primary concern of citizens.

The sales tax will raise $912 million over 30 years. The city-parish will hire a program manager who will be in charge of using traffic data and gathering public input to prioritize all the projects outlined in the tax proposal.

One of the first improvements will be synchronization of traffic signals along major corridors. The city-parish director of transportation and drainage said that project would cost about $35 million. He called that a big deal aside from widening streets because traffic movement is an important component of the total program.

Broome also had support from the business community. Jim Bernhard, a prominent businessman, was one of the top donors to a political action committee that supported the tax proposal. He campaigned alongside the mayor-president.

Not to be overlooked is the fact that Broome became the public face of the tax plan and talked to dozens of groups in person. Broome also had the support of mayors in Zachary, Central and Baker.

John Couvillion, president of an analytical and polling firm, said Broome’s proposal fared better than 2016 proposals because it wasn’t on a ballot crowded with four other tax proposals and seven tax renewals.

“I think people were in a better mood economically this year than in 2016, when roughly half of the parish was impacted by floods,” Couvillion said.

Woody Jenkins, chairman of the EBR Republican Party, said something that other communities should keep in mind about growing traffic congestion problems.

“The longer it goes I think all of us realize we have to address this traffic problem,” Jenkins said. “It has started to affect everything we do.”

Citizens will support higher taxes if they know exactly how the money is going to be spent and have faith in the public officials who promote them.Sales tax graphic

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