A Baton Rouge lawmaker plans to file a bill Tuesday that would increase the state gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon, which would raise more than $500 million annually for road and bridges.
"Traffic in Baton Rouge, and infrastructure around the state, is in disarray," said Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, sponsor of the measure, which was being finalized Monday.
The proposal would be the largest yet in the push to repair Louisiana's transportation system, one of the key issues in the two-month legislative session.
The topic was set to get its first hearing Tuesday when a separate proposal, by state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, was to be heard in the House Ways and Means Committee. That legislation, House Bill 561, would raise the state sales tax by half a cent, which would generate about $400 million per year for transportation.
But Jones said late Monday afternoon he plans to seek a delay in the hearing.
In addition, some road and bridge advocates are lukewarm about any push for improvements that relies on higher sales taxes.
Gov. John Bel Edwards and others are trying to replace a temporary, 1-cent sales tax hike enacted last year to help offset state budget problems.
The deadline for filing bills through the normal process is Tuesday, and other transportation measures may be coming.
Carter's bill, like other tax measures, will eventually be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee.
Winning approval there will be no easy task in a session where recurring state financial problems have sparked a wide range of other tax debates.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, is the sponsor of a proposal that would revamp current transportation spending practices. He said those kind of changes may be needed before any increase in state road and bridge spending.
Carter, who is chairman of the 29-member Baton Rouge area legislative delegation, said he is optimistic about winning committee approval for his plan. "I think pretty good, to be honest with you," he said when asked about prospects.
He said lawmakers from around the state who are in town for the Legislature regularly complain about Baton Rouge-area traffic troubles. "They have to realize we do have a problem," he said.
Carter also said that while GOP lawmakers generally shy away from tax hikes, lawmakers in other states have approved higher gasoline taxes without any major fallout at the ballot box.
"I just tell you, hopefully, people will do the right thing because it is time now," he said. "It has been 20, 25 years since we passed a gasoline tax."
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Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon now, including 20 cents in state taxes.
The Carter bill would raise that to 55.4 cents per gallon in a bid to offset the state's $13 billion backlog of road, bridge and other transportation needs.
Tax increases require the approval of two-thirds of the state House and Senate, always a difficult chore politically.
Carter's measure, unlike some backed by Jones, would not require a public vote.
The Carter bill will include an index, which means the gas tax would be adjusted periodically for inflation or other factors.
It likely will appeal to the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and about two dozen other groups that earlier this month called for an additional $500 million per year in transportation spending.
Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, has said he also plans to sponsor a bill that raise the gas tax by 17 cents per gallon.
Lots of Thibaut's constituents have to grapple with crippling traffic delays daily going back and forth across the Interstate 10 bridge over the Mississippi River.
Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, may also file gas tax hike legislation before Tuesday's deadline.
Jones is the sponsor of House Bill 600, which would raise the state gasoline tax 10 cents per gallon, which is about $300 million per year. It would require both legislative and public approval.
He has also filed House Bill 578, which would raise the gas tax by 7 cents per gallon — around $210 million yearly — with up to 2 cents dedicated to local governments, about $60 million per year.
The governor last week urged state lawmakers to act on the state's transportation problems but did not spell out a specific plan.
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Edwards said he would support changes consistent with his task force, which recommended a $700 million increase in transportation spending.
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Aside from the state's $13 billion backlog another $16 billion list of "mega" projects is on the drawing boards, including a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge. That addition would cost at least $1 billion and take nearly a decade to finish.