A special state panel Wednesday began trying to come up with ways to boost aid for roads and bridges amid disagreements on whether transportation is in line for a $400 million annual infusion by 2019.
Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said highways and other areas are due the money, or some portion of it, because of a 2008 state law.
But state Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, said few in state government think that revenue for transportation will ever materialize, especially amid state budget problems.
Adley noted that, even if the money becomes reality, it will not arrive until the financial year that ends on June 30, 2020.
“In six years’ time, the problems would multiply dramatically,” Adley said after the 90-minute meeting. “Waiting until then is next to impossible.”
The comments surfaced during the first meeting of the Transportation Funding Task Force, which includes legislative, highway and other leaders.
The committee was authorized by a legislative resolution earlier this year.
Louisiana has a roughly $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs but repeated efforts to tackle the issue in the Legislature have failed.
The panel is supposed to file a report to the Louisiana House and Senate transportation committees by Jan. 15.
The $400 million in dispute stems from a 2008 law that would redirect new and used car sales tax revenue from the state general fund, where it is used for a wide range of services, to transportation only.
The law is contingent on the state first meeting certain budget thresholds, and whether that will even happen for the 2020 financial year is unclear.
LeBas said her agency has an annual capital and operating budget of $1.7 billion, including $595 million in the key fund for road and bridge projects.
However, Adley said a variety of factors mean that the state is only spending $27 million for highway preservation when that allocation should total at least $70 million per year.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in Louisiana for state and federal taxes, including 16 cents for rank-and-file projects and 4 cents for projects that voters approved in 1989 called TIMED.
About $60 million per year of transportation dollars are diverted yearly to State Police for highway safety, which has sparked criticism.
Adley said that, in a future meeting of the task force, he wants State Police to spell out how that money is spent.
House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said delays are not the answer.
St. Germain distributed a sheet that showed the 16 projects voters approved in 1989 were initially estimated to cost $2.5 billion.
The latest pricetag is $4.6 billion.
“That is the why the task force was put together,” she said of rising costs.
Adley said that, despite skepticism in the news media and elsewhere, he is confident that the panel’s work will produce additional aid for transportation.
St. Germain said the panel will meet on Oct. 30 and likely have an additional gathering before then.
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