Without fanfare, a powerful Senate committee Thursday approved a bill that would end plans to move about $400 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund to one for roads and bridges only.
Under the proposal, up to $100 million would be added to yearly transportation spending if state revenue thresholds are met.
The Senate Finance Committee approved the measure — Senate Bill 221 — without objection.
It next faces action in the full Senate.
The bill, if it wins final approval, could rattle plans at the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Sherri LeBas, secretary for the agency, has said repeatedly that DOTD is banking on the $400 million to give key projects a major injection of state dollars.
LeBas said after the vote that, while the $100 million transfer would be a vital first step, “it will not be enough to address the long-term transportation improvements needed to support Louisiana’s growing economy.”
The bill approved Thursday is linked to a 2008 state law aimed at boosting state aid to roads and bridges, which faces a $12 billion backlog of key projects.
That measure requires the annual transfer of $400 million per year in motor vehicle sales tax revenue from general revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund.
However, the money movement only takes place when state revenue reaches a certain level, which was said to be 2020 or later.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, sponsor of this year’s bill, said his measure makes sense because the state’s revenue picture is unlikely to improve dramatically anytime soon.
While Adley’s SB221 was under discussion, the state House was in a daylong debate on how to solve a $1.6 billion shortfall to keep spending at current levels.
Also, there are concerns that, even if state revenue reached the levels required by the 2008 state law, the Legislature would be unwilling to move such a large amount of money out of the fund for a wide range of state services to transportation only.
“It is just not going to happen,” Adley said of the planned transfer.
“All you have to do is look around and see what is happening,” Adley said, a reference to state budget problems.
Under the measure, transportation would collect up to $100 million more per year if still other state financial conditions are met, which Adley said is far more likely.
That could start as early as July 1, 2016.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and a member of the committee, was an early sponsor of legislation to move motor vehicle sales tax dollars to a fund for transportation only.
But White said Adley’s bill would ensure at least $70 million yearly for road and bridge maintenance, and up to $30 million for improved road and bridge capacity and ports.
“It is the first chance at some real money since ’08 other than capital outlay for transportation,” he said.
Kenneth E. Naquin, chief executive officer of Louisiana Associated General Contractors Inc., said he understood the reasoning behind Adley’s bill.
“Was the Transportation Trust Fund ever going to get $400 million? Who knows?” Naquin said.
“Sen. Adley’s theory is, ‘Let’s take something because we may not get anything,’ ” he added.
The bill approved on Thursday was reworked since a drastically different version was sidelined by the same committee on Monday.
Adley initially proposed that the transfer timetable be accelerated, with $100 million of the expected $400 million being moved to the transportation fund in 2017, and the rest phased in in successive years.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, said he was concerned about how the money would be replaced in Louisiana’s general revenue fund.