Just ahead of gasoline tax debate, Baton Rouge Area Chamber, 21 others back at least $500 million hike

The Advocate

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber and 21 other groups Tuesday urged state lawmakers to approve an increase of at least $500 million per year for roads, bridges and other transportation needs.

“While a variety of sources have been considered, the bulk of funding must come through an increase in the state gas tax,” according to position papers released during a news conference.

A gasoline tax hike of about 17 cents per gallon would be needed to raise $500 million more per year if it is the sole source of new funding.

Click here to view video of BRAC Luncheon by The Advocate.

In December, a study group named by Gov. John Bel Edwards recommended a $700 million annual increase in road and bridge spending, part of which would be aimed at trimming Louisiana’s $13 billion backlog of rank-and-file needs. That would require an increase of about 23 cents per gallon.

Another $16 billion would be needed for a wide range of “mega” projects, including a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, long a chamber priority.

The groups spelled out their aims six days before the start of the 2017 regular legislative session, where transportation is expected to be a key topic.

“If a major new revenue source is not passed this year, our next opportunity will not come until 2021,” Adam Knapp, president and CEO of BRAC said in a statement. “Frankly, that is not an option.”

Two of the next three years will be nonfiscal sessions and 2019 — the next fiscal session — is an election year, which means any tax increases are unlikely.

Higher taxes require the support of two-thirds of the House and Senate, always a high hurdle.

In addition, state services face another projected budget shortfall of about $440 million, which will complicate efforts to raise new revenue.

Others in the coalition include Blueprint Louisiana, New Orleans Chamber, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, Greater New Orleans Inc., SWLA Economic Development Alliance and the North Louisiana Economic Partnership.

Also, the Louisiana Chemical Association, West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce, I-49 South Coalition and CRISIS, a Baton Rouge area transportation advocacy group.

“This coalition demonstrates strong support from every single region of our state for increasing transportation revenues,” Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, a chamber group based in Lafayette, said in a statement.

“This is a way to create a better way of life for our people,” he said, a reference to increased spending on roads and bridges.

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said last week he expects a handful of bills to be filed to boost Louisiana’s gasoline tax, all around 17 cents per gallon.

Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, has said he plans to file just  such a bill.

Officials of the groups cited a recent poll by LSU that showed support for more road and bridge spending. That survey said 57 percent of respondents said they would back increased taxes for transportation. The report was done by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab.

The groups said the state has more than 3,000 bridges that need to be replaced; ranks in the bottom five for every measure of road conditions and ranks 42nd nationally for its gas tax rate.

The coalition, called Build It, will be represented during the session by former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Mike Michot, a lawmaker for 16 years who lobbies with The Picard Group.

Motorists pay 38.4 cent per gallon, including 20 cents in state taxes.

Just over 4 of those 20 cents are used to pay off borrowing costs for a 1989 statewide transportation plan called TIMED.

The group’s acronym, BUILD IT, stands for Businesses United for Improving Louisiana’s Development by Investing in Transportation.

Each penny of the state’s gas tax raises about $30 million.

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