A $700 million yearly hike in state transportation spending would be a practical way to tackle Louisiana's road and bridge problems, state Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said Monday.
"I tend to be on the side of wanting to see bold change and impact as it relates to infrastructure," Wilson said.
A $700 million boost "is a very good, practical, pragmatic figure," he said.
Wilson made his comments three days before a key meeting of Gov. John Bel Edwards' transportation task force, which is supposed to come up with ways to solve the state's $13 billion backlog of road and bridge needs and other issues.
The state's $13 billion backlog of needed road and bridge work is mostly for highway work, h…
The panel, which is set to meet on Thursday at 9 a.m., will start discussing a variety of resolutions on how to finance any improvements, including a likely increase in the state gasoline tax.
A state task force on how to repair Louisiana's transportation problems is hearing citizen s…
Final votes on the recommendations are expected Dec. 13.
Wilson, a key Edwards lieutenant and co-chair of the task force, declined to say how big an increase would be needed in the gas tax as part of any proposed funding plan.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon now, including 20 cents in state taxes.
Each penny raises about $30 million per year, and a 20-cent hike has been tossed around unofficially for weeks.
"I think that will be the recommendation," said House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville and a member of the task force.
However, Havard questioned whether such an increase – about $600 million per year – is politically feasible and said other options need review.
The panel will send its suggestions to Edwards, who will then decide what he wants to submit to the 2017 regular session of the Legislature.
Wilson declined to say how much he thinks gas taxes should be raised.
He said public/private partnerships could help the state reach its transportation funding target.
Linking the gasoline tax to inflation or other costs – called indexing – and increases in registration fees are other options but both would be modest revenue raisers.
Aside from the $13 billion backlog Louisiana also has a $16 billion list of 'mega" projects, including a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge that is backed by local groups and leaders.
Wilson said he understands the political sensitivity of trying to raise another $700 million per year for transportation strictly through a gas tax hike.
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Any tax boost would require the approval of two thirds of the Legislature – 70 in the House and 26 in the Senate – at the same time other state services face funding problems.
Havard called that requirement "a big hurdle, even getting it out of the (House) Ways and Means Committee."
He joked that two-thirds majorities are difficult even for winning agreement that Dec. 25 is Christmas.
Havard said he doubts that voters would approve a 20-cent increase in the state gasoline tax.
"There is an anti-tax sentiment out there, especially dealing with the Transportation Trust Fund," he said. The TTF is the key state source of road and bridge dollars, and the diversion of some of that money to other state services has sparked criticism in the past.
"Right now I am just waiting to see what comes out of the committee and what the the governor wants to carry before I make a decision on whether to support it or not," Havard said.
Havard said another funding option would be a 1 cent per gallon refinery tax, and he said the advantage of that approach is that it would be shared nationally, not just in Louisiana.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said there is public support for an increase in the gasoline tax but how much is unclear.
Cortez said the details of any transportation plan is linked to how Edwards and others hope to solve state government's overall financial problems.