The South Louisiana Economic Council has joined a statewide business coalition that will push for significantly more money for transportation projects in the state.
SLEC is an economic development group based out of Thibdoaux offering programs to support businesses in the region. The group supports Assumption, Lafourche, St. Mary, and Terrebonne parishes.
The coalition, Businesses United for Improving Louisiana’s Development by Investing in Transportation, features 21 different business groups. BUILD IT said in a news release that it developed its key principles through outreach to legislators and business organizations.
The coalition announced several goals it hopes to achieve:
- Restoring trust in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund and prohibiting money from that fund from being used for non-transportation issues.
- Increasing transportation revenues to address a $13 billion maintenance backlog the state faces and finance new projects.
- Directing all new revenue to maintenance and new projects.
- Increasing transparency and accountability on construction projects.
“Infrastructure is vital to the growth and sustainability of our economy and state,” said Vic Lafont, president and CEO of SLEC. “Completing projects such as the La. 1 Improvement Project, I-49 South, and the North South Corridor are imperative to the bayou region and beyond. We must position ourselves for future opportunities and the leveraging of available funds.”
The coalition said it believes the majority of the money for these initiatives must come from an increase in the state gas tax.
“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 the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said in a statement reported by The Advocate. “Frankly, that is not an option.”
Motorists in Louisianan pay 38.4 cents per gallon of gasoline in taxes, with 20 cents going to the state. Each penny increase of the gas tax raises $30 million per year. In December, a transportation task force created by Gov. John Bel Edwards recommended $700 million in spending for transportation needs. An increase of 23 cents to the gas tax would be needed to raise the money.
The Advocate reported Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said last week it is probable bills will be filed during the upcoming legislative session to increase the gas tax, with Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, planning to file a bill that would increase the tax by 17 cents.
BUILD IT points to LSU’s 2017 Louisiana Survey that showed 73 percent of respondents would support a 5-cent increase, while the percentage in favor decreases as the proposed increase is raised. Only 61 percent would support a 15-cent increase.
Residents expressed opposition to the tax increase on The Courier and Daily Comet’s Facebook pages.
“First off, I don’t trust them to use the money for better roads,” Dominic Amedee wrote. “But secondly, how much better can the roads actually get? I mean, we built them through swamps already. Land will sink. Roads will crack.”
“If I thought for a second that money would be allocated to where they say it will be, then yes,” Matt Casse wrote, “but I will never think that for a second.”