Trimming the use of highway dollars that go to State Police is one of several ideas worth pursuing to help tackle Louisiana’s road and bridge problems, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry said Wednesday.
“The board has told us they want transportation to be one of our priorities this year,” LABI President Stephen Waguespack told the Transportation Funding Task Force, which is studying the issue.
Most of the ideas tossed around by state lawmakers and others would only make a minor dent in the state’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.
A final report from the committee’s monthslong study is due on Jan. 15.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, has repeatedly said the state should consider redirecting the nearly $60 million annually in state transportation money that was redirected to State Police for traffic safety.
Adley said the diversion of funds — mandated by lawmakers — is especially bothersome when the state is spending about $27 million per year for highway maintenance rather than the $70 million or so needed annually for upkeep.
Waguespack, former chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, said that diversion has risen from $36 million in 2011 to $59 million now.
The LABI leader said it is worth seeing whether the state could “ratchet down” some of that diversion.
“I don’t know what that magic number is,” Waguespack said.
Adley, a member of the task force, welcomed the comments. “I don’t think we will pass anything without your help,” he said, a reference to the business community.
“Our roads have gone to hell,” Adley said later in the meeting.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, a member of the task force, said any push in 2015 to move scarce state dollars from State Police to transportation faces hurdles.
Donahue said public safety regularly shows up as the top priority for taxpayers and shifting money from State Police will not be easy “unless we have another source of funding.”
State Police Col. Mike Edmonson told the panel that the $59 million is used in all of Louisiana’s nine traffic troops for salaries, benefits and fuel costs to patrol highways.
Waguespack said the state should also take another look at the timetable for what could be a $400 million boost in state aid for roads and bridges starting in 2019.
Those dollars stem from a 2008 state law that would funnel new and used car tax revenue from the state general fund, where it is used for a variety of services, to transportation only.
Adley has questioned whether lawmakers will let that happen, especially amid annual budget problems.
Waguespack also sided with lawmakers and others who say that a tax hike for roads and bridges is highly unlikely, especially until voters have more confidence in current spending.
“I don’t know why we should throw a curve into that growth,” Waguespack said, a reference to predicted industry and jobs expansion.