The Advocate

Two bills are in the works that would increase state aid for road and bridges by about $500 million per year, lawmakers said Wednesday.

State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said he is preparing one of the measures, and it would require voter approval if it clears the Legislature.

Also, Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, said he intends to sponsor a bill that would increase the state gasoline tax by about 17 cents per gallon – roughly $500 million annually.

Thibaut said he has no plans to require a public vote.

Jones said submitting the issue to voters is a must. “I wouldn’t approach any of this without a public vote,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and 21 other groups asked lawmakers to boost state aid for transportation by at least $500 million per year, which would require an increase of 17 cents per gallon if all the money came from that source.

A task force named by Gov. John Bel Edwards said in December that the state needs to spend another $700 million annually to tackle the state’s $13 billion backlog of maintenance and other needs.

The governor’s office has said Edwards, rather than offering his own transportation agenda, plans to get behind a bill or bills that he views as worth supporting.

Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon for gasoline, with 20 cents charged by the state.

Jones said his proposal would raise less than the $700 million hike recommended by the governor’s panel. “But, hopefully, it will come somewhere in the $500 million, $550 million (neighborhood),” he said.

The plan would require the support of two thirds of the state House and Senate, then a majority of voters statewide.

“If they want it they will vote for it, if they don’t they will vote against it,” Jones said of voters. “That is all you can do.”

Jones’ bill would require that the proceeds be placed in what he calls the 21st Century Transportation and Infrastructure Fund in the state Treasurer’s Office. That move is aimed at preventing road and bridge dollars from being redirected to other state services, which has happened with the Transportation Trust Fund, the key source of the dollars.

“That is to protect it from being dribbled off,” Jones said. “You have to protect it. I don’t think people will vote for it unless it is protected and only used for that purpose.”

Thibaut said residents in his legislative district would support higher taxes to ease traffic congestion, especially on the “new” Mississippi River bridge.

“We live it every day,” he said.

Thibaut also said his proposal will include an inflation or other index to prevent the tax from losing buying power.

Jones has already filed another plan – House Bill 578 – that would increase the gasoline tax by 7 cents per gallon but it will be held in reserve.