What are the tax proposals for roads, mental health facility on Saturday ballot?
East Baton Rouge voters on Saturday will decide on two tax proposals: a sales tax for road improvements, and a property tax for a mental health facility.
Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome is making her second bid to widen roads, synchronize traffic signals and otherwise overhaul parish roads after the Metro Council blocked a previous attempt.
The current proposal, known as MovEBR, involves a half-penny sales tax, though groceries, prescriptions and utilities are exempt. The tax would be collected for 30 years, but Broome has said that since the collection would be bonded, most work would be completed in the next 12 to 15 years should the measure pass.
By the year 2032, all drivers combined are expected to save 1.1 million gallons of gasoline and 573 years of time that would be lost sitting in traffic without the improvements contained in the proposal, according to a study by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The tax money may be spent only on a specific list of projects, which can be viewed at movebr.net. Big-ticket items include improvements to Airline Highway, widening roads around Central and building a new Interstate 10 exchange with a widened Pecue Lane.
Broome has tried to court the business community and won support from the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, whose members have said that even more than local crime and schools, traffic is the biggest impediment to doing business in the Capital Area.
Some metro council members, though, have said they'd put Broome's measure on the ballot, but it's up to her office to convince residents to pony up an expected $912 million. The amount is about twice what she requested in the previous attempt, a 5-mill property tax.
A sales tax is better because commuters have to pitch in too, Broome has argued, though detractors have wondered if a sales tax would disproportionately foist the burden on lower-income households.
The law enforcement and healthcare communities, meanwhile, have their eyes on a 1.5-mill property tax to fund the Bridge Center, a psychiatric crisis and detox facility.
When police are called to a scene where a mentally ill person is disruptive and potentially dangerous or suicidal, officers would be able to take the individual to the Bridge Center rather than jail or an emergency room. Law enforcement officials have said that better psychiatric treatment would improve officer safety and that the Bridge Center would reduce jail crowding and allow officers and prosecutors to focus on serious crimes.
Advocates have also said the measure would save money in the long-term by reducing the number of people housed and medically treated in jail and by allowing police officers and deputy sheriffs to work more efficiently.
A similar, 2-mill version of the tax failed in 2016.
The mental health tax has received broad support. Opponents have generally said they approve of such a facility, they just want to see it funded with existing revenue or see the money go to a government agency rather than the new Bridge Center nonprofit organization.