Jim Bernhard vows to lead charge for gasoline tax, bring local law enforcement together

Businessman Jim Bernhard is vowing to do everything in his power to bring a gasoline tax to voters—later this year in a special legislative session, if possible—to fund critically needed road and infrastructure improvements in the state.

It’s one of several measures the private equity firm executive and founder of The Shaw Group pledged to take as part of his newfound commitment to civic activism and moving Baton Rouge forward.

In a rousing speech to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Bernhard said since delivering a similar speech Jan. 23 to hundreds of local business leaders at The Business Report’s annual Power Breakfast, he is determined to become more involved in the community and focus on infrastructure improvements, fighting crime and funding higher education. (Read Executive Editor JR Ball’s column on Bernhard’s Power Breakfast speech.)

“I’m going to be involved. I’m going to advance the conversation,” Bernhard told the standing-room-only crowd at Rotary today. “I could have done a better job with that (during my career). That stopped last week. We’re going to see what we can do to move the community forward.”

Since the Power Breakfast speech, Bernhard says he has received more text messages and calls of support than ever before in his career and he is working to form a group of business leaders who want to be involved in helping him tackle the major issues that he believes are keeping Baton Rouge, a merely good city, from being a great one.

He apologized for not being more engaged in Rep. Steve Carter’s unsuccessful effort last year to pass a gasoline tax increase in the legislature and said he will never again be uninvolved in such matters.

“You’ll get help from me whether you want it or not,” he said.

Following the speech, he told Daily Report he will meet with legislative and business leaders to push the idea of a gasoline tax, which would have to be brought up in a special session later this year, and will fund the campaign to promote the tax himself.

“No one will be able to hide,” he said.

Since the Power Breakfast, Bernhard has also met at length with East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul to discuss ways their law enforcement agencies can work together to more effectively and efficiently fight crime.

“I have a commitment from both agencies that they will be working together on specific joint programs” that will be rolled out in the coming weeks, he said.

A spokesman for Gautreaux confirms the agencies are working together but says it is premature to discuss the specifics of the plan.

Bernhard—who sold The Shaw Group for $3.2 billion to CB&I in 2013 and went on to form one of the largest PE firms in the south, Bernhard Capital Partners—encouraged his audience to also become involved.

“Pick up the phone and call (LSU President) King Alexander and say, ‘What can I do for LSU? How can I help?’” Bernhard said.

Following his speech, a Rotarian in the audience asked Bernhard what might have seemed like an obvious question—if he has political aspirations.

Bernhard, a Democrat, said no, adding, “I am not running for political office.”  

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