Push for Louisiana gas tax hike faces steep hurdles as leaders ramp up campaign

The Advocate

Leaders of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ task force that recommended a $700 million increase in state aid for roads and bridges stepped up efforts Thursday to win legislative support for improvements.

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development and John Basilica, who with Wilson co-chaired the task force, released a 15-page circular that includes details of the panel’s recommendations.

In addition, individual lawmakers were sent profiles of their House and Senate districts spelling out needs and what projects could be done with a $700 million boost in state transportation dollars.

“The facts make an indisputable case for action, and today is about making sure those facts are known to the people of Louisiana and their elected officials so that sustainable solutions can prevail,” Basilica said in a statement.

Basilica is former undersecretary for DOTD.

The Legislature, which finishes its third week on Thursday, has not tackled any of the bills aimed at boosting state road and bridge aid, including a hike of 17 cents per gallon proposed by state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.

That plan would raise $510 million per year.

A $700 million tax increase is all but out of the question, and Carter’s plan, like others, faces huge political hurdles.

Tax hikes require two-thirds approval in the state House and Senate.

In addition, Gov. John Bel Edwards and House and Senate leaders are at an impasse on how to solve Louisiana’s latest budget shortfall, which is dominating attention.

Any push to increase the gasoline tax has to start in the House, and House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, told reporters Thursday he thinks support is lacking, at least for now.

“I think the authors are continuing to try to measure the interest,” Barras said. “I know they were encouraged in the beginning and have gotten discouraged in the last few weeks.”

He added, “I’m not getting a good response at this point, but the authors may be.”

Transportation backers hope a late session push, combined with other bills aimed at improving confidence in state transportation spending, will pay dividends before adjournment on June 8.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, is sponsoring a constitutional amendment that would ban moving transportation dollars to State Police.

Since 1991 a total of $679 million has been moved from the Transportation Trust Fund, which finances roads and bridges, to State Police, an average of $32.3 million per year, according to figures provided by Cortez. That practice, which has been stopped by Gov. John Bel Edwards, has long been a sore point with critics of current road and bridge spending.

The proposal, Senate Bill 57, won easy approval in Cortez’s committee Thursday and next faces action in the full Senate.

Cortez said the prohibition is needed because, despite the current freeze, a future governor could resume the practice.

“It is time to put trust back in what has been labeled the mistrust fund,” said Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston and a member of the committee.

The announcement Thursday followed Wednesday’s release of a civil engineering report that said state road conditions merit a D and bridges a D-plus.

In addition, leaders of a 32-member business coalition, including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, are expected to repeat their calls next week for a $500 million increase in spending for roads, bridges and other transportation needs.

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

The state portion was last changed in 1989.

“Louisiana has sat idly for the last 28 years while 44 other states have increased their investment in transportation,” Wilson said.

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