Touted as a way to help restore voter confidence, a key Louisiana House panel Monday approved a bill that would gradually trim the annual transfer of $65 million in state road and bridge funds to State Police.

The measure, House Bill 208, won approval from the House Appropriations Committee without objection. It next faces action in the full House.

Under current practice, the state moves about $65 million per year from the Transportation Trust Fund, which is supposed to finance road and bridge projects, to State Police.

The state will have diverted $418 million from the fund since 2005 to State Police, officials said, at a time when motorists in Baton Rouge and elsewhere are demanding transportation improvements. The legislation would trim the yearly diversion to $40 million starting July 1, $25 million next year and $10 million in future years.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette and sponsor of the bill, said during hearings last year on Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge projects voters repeatedly said trust needs to be re-established on how transportation dollars are being used.

“I am calling it putting the trust back into the Transportation Trust Fund,” Landry said. “The public is concerned that we are raiding the trust fund.”

Landry is a member of the House Transportation Committee and former superintendent of the State Police.

He said he would work with the agency and others to ensure that his bill does no damage to law enforcement.

“I love the organization,” the lawmaker said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, said he backs the measure even though it would add a $25 million “hole” in a state budget already shadowed by a $1.6 billion shortfall to keep spending at current levels. “I have committed to working with them,” Fannin said of backers of the legislation.

The proposal is considered a modest one amid the state’s $12 billion backlog.

House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, offered a measure last week to raise $7 billion for roads and bridges over 10 years by raising the state sales tax by one cent.

The annual transfer of dollars from the transportation fund to State Police became a recurring topic last year during a special legislative study on how to find new revenue for roads and bridges.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, repeatedly cited the transfer as one reason Louisiana is unable to come up with $70 million a year to help maintain highways.

Adley is sponsoring a constitutional amendment — Senate Bill 123 — that would ban the use of the Transportation Trust Fund for State Police.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which has made transportation improvements one of its legislative priorities, endorsed Landry’s plan.

State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson has said the money diverted from the transportation fund is used in all nine patrol districts for salaries, benefits and fuel costs.

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