Despite massive hurdles, a Louisiana House committee Tuesday approved two tax hike bills that would raise nearly $1 billion per year for roads and bridges.
One of the proposals — House Bill 778 — would increase the state sales tax by 1 cent, with the $675 million per year earmarked mostly for 16 projects statewide.
That list includes a new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge that would connect La. 1 and La. 30, upgrades to the Port of New Orleans and improvements to Interstate 49 between Lafayette and Broussard.
It would raise about $7 billion over 10 years, and then it is supposed to expire.
The other measure — House Bill 777 — would boost the state gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon and raise about $300 million per year.
The sales tax hike, with little discussion, won approval in the House Ways and Means Committee without objection.
The boost in the gas tax passed 7-3.
Both now face action in the full House, where two-thirds support -— a daunting 70 votes -— is required for the plans to move to the state Senate.
“No doubt it is a heavy lift,” said Kenneth Naquin, chief executive officer of Louisiana Associated General Contractors Inc., which backed both bills.
Despite the odds, House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, said she remains hopeful of final passage, especially since lawmakers are hearing lots of complaints about road and bridge conditions from constituents.
“We are out of options, and this is the only one where we will see new infrastructure in the state of Louisiana,” St. Germain told the committee.
All the action comes amid a state budget crisis, including a $1.6 billion shortfall to keep state spending at current levels that has lawmakers grappling for solutions.
However, the state also faces a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge projects, which has few solutions for years.
Naquin told the committee that action on Louisiana’s transportation needs is long overdue, and that the state risks losing jobs-heavy projects to Texas if improvements are not made.
“This is a bold, bold, aggressive plan,” he said. “We have our heads buried in the sand if we think we are going to fund some of these projects in the future.
“It is just not going to happen,” Naquin added.
The sales tax hike won committee approval in about one hour.
Most of the discussion focused on details of some of the projects, not whether a $675 million per year, election-year sales tax hike makes sense.
The new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge — it would cost about $1 billion — is designed to ease near daily traffic tie-ups on and near the Interstate 10 bridge.
A late addition to the list would be the expansion of La. 30 to four lanes from La. 42 to I-10.
Other projects would add two lanes to I-12 between Hammond and Mandeville, rework the interchange at Loyola Drive and I-10 in New Orleans, widen La. 1 to four lanes between White Castle and Donaldsonville, and add a two-lane, elevated highway on La. 1 between Golden Meadow and Leeville.
The bill also would send $100 million per year of the new sales tax revenue to a proposed state fund — it is moving through the Legislature — that would offer low-interest loans to local governments for road and bridge projects.
The legislation is backed by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
Opponents include the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
If the sales tax hike becomes reality, East Baton Rouge Parish residents would pay 10 percent in state and local sales taxes.
St. Germain initially proposed a floating gasoline tax hike of up to $750 million per year, depending on the price at the pump.
However, House Bill 777 was revamped and instead would raise the state’s gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon for 10 years.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes.
The state’s share is 20 cents per gallon, with 16 cents for rank-and-file projects and the rest for improvements that voters approved in 1989.
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