The roads won’t build themselves.
That remains true in East Baton Rouge Parish, as well as elsewhere in the state, after the Metro Council deadlocked on a 5-mill property tax proposal for transportation funding.
At $445 million, the proposal was not small change. It would have funded a large number of road expansion projects and set aside some money for a local match when— and if — the state comes forward with cash for bigger projects like widening of the interstate in the middle of the city. The city estimated that $100 million in federal funds could be matched with the local bond issue.
Still, the proposal embraced by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome would not have been a final solution for Baton Rouge’s chronic traffic problems. But should it not have been given a chance at the ballot box?
Now, though, there’s another delay. The 5-5 vote did not win the seven votes needed to advance the measure to the November ballot.
This comes after a proposal to raise the state gasoline tax was defeated in the 2017 Legislature. That tax hasn’t been raised in decades. Over those years, inflation has reduced the building power of the tax by about half.
While the state vote was a blow, because probably at least 40 percent of the major projects needing improvement are in the greater Baton Rouge area, that a local tax also fails amid some of the worst traffic congestion in the country is dismaying.
In the waning days of former Mayor-President Kip Holden’s administration, a similar proposal was rejected.
When will something be done?
The traffic problems of the city don’t just take a toll in frustration and time lost with families. As the Baton Rouge Area Chamber pointed out, our infrastructure problems are bad for business.
“The business community, in surveys by BRAC, has said repeatedly that traffic and congestion is the number one obstacle today to doing business in our region,” said BRAC President Adam Knapp. “In one year, we have seen inaction on state transportation funding to build critically needed infrastructure for the state, and now local failure to act on local funding for transportation.”
Knapp urged those on all sides of the debate at city hall to work together on local solutions. The costs of megaprojects like a new Mississippi River bridge are obviously a statewide issue, but tons of work remain to be done in the city and parish.
Most cities and states use property taxes to underwrite these kind of bond issues. A local gasoline tax is forbidden by state law. Realistically, the 5-mill proposal was financially reasonable enough.
We don’t know if there will be the consensus that Knapp seeks. But something like a broader community coalition will be needed to get some action on these problems.