Gas Tax

Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson, right, speaks in support of a gasoline tax increase bill by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, left, on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

AP Photo by Melinda Deslatte

With the Legislature failing to raise the gasoline tax — the essential revenue source for repairing and building roads and bridges — East Baton Rouge Parish is going to have to make a call on its infrastructure.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome will now be pushing a November election to raise money for road and bridge projects, one of the most troubling issues facing Baton Rouge in the future.

The second-best selling point: the failure of the summer.

State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, pushed a fuels tax increase that would have been the first rise in its rate in 28 years. Supported by Capital Region businesses heartily — they suffer daily, as drivers or in delivery or receipt of goods — the bill got out of the critical Ways and Means Committee, but Carter said support was not there for the 70 votes in the 105-member House of any passage of a revenue bill.

"Making change is very very difficult, and takes a lot of courage," he said in a legislative post-mortem before the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

He noted that many "red" states like Louisiana that strongly supported President Donald Trump have also raised transportation revenues over the past few years — indeed, a majority of the states, including conservative areas like South Carolina and Tennessee.

Gov. John Bel Edwards' transportation task force agreed with the need for a significant increase for Louisiana's crumbling roads and bridges. The data were compelling, but the political will was lacking. "They did a marvelous job," Carter said, "and nothing happened."

Baton Rouge is one of the most congested cities in America, and New Orleans is also up there, in the top 20 in recent surveys of the issues, Carter noted. While he said the Baton Rouge area's delegation broadly supported the tax, other lawmakers felt it was "not the time."

Not the time for political courage: That ought to be Louisiana's state motto.

If the failure of the summer should resonate politically, it ought to be helpful to Broome when she pushes a new roads program this fall. After all, when a road package pushed by former Mayor-President Kip Holden last fall was rejected, voters might have arguably thought that the state would come up with significant revenues for Baton Rouge's traffic problems.

Not so, now, and probably not for several years: Carter noted that there are non-tax sessions of the Legislature ahead on the calendar, and little hope for tax increases in the 2019 session, when lawmakers go before the voters that fall.

Political courage again lacking, and doubly not the time.

Carter said he has not yet studied Broome's proposal, but he gave her credit: "I applaud her for trying," he said. "She is putting out something to try to solve our problem."

The details of Broome's proposal will have to be hashed out over the coming weeks, and we shall see if her administration can focus its efforts on bringing into the fray again the business community — including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, which worked with big employers around the region to support Carter's bill.

Carter said necessity should compel a fair hearing for any constructive proposals. "We've got horrible transportation problems, and I probably shouldn't add this," he said in a characteristic aside for the former LSU tennis coach turned legislator, "and our schools aren't always where they ought to be."

How are BRAC and the state's economic development team going to sell a capital region where gridlock is the norm? If the failure of the Legislature to act is the second-best argument for a Broome proposal, dire necessity is the most overwhelming part of her case, even before she has started to make it to the public.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.