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

Most of the members of the Louisiana House of Representatives know that our state desperately needs relief in the form of better roads and bridges and all sorts of expensive infrastructure.

But even a 10-cent increase in the price of gasoline was too much for a minority of members, and they refused to raise more money for new projects — indeed, for better maintaining the roads and bridges we already have.

State Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, pulled his bill rather than force members to a vote that he felt he could not win. We wish he had forced them to go on the record.

People need to know who their utterly gutless legislators are.

The math for raising the gas tax is unanswerable: It hasn’t gone up in 28 years. Roads and bridges, ports and airports are ever more expensive to repair and to build.

No one likes higher taxes, but all these legislators clamor for the benefits of transportation spending. Most states have raised transportation funding, many of them several times, in recent years. Leaders understand that progress has real costs, and money invested in roads and other projects is returned many-fold in terms of jobs and economic growth.

To have a reasonable increase in the gas tax blocked by something-for-nothing legislators is sad.

To pass any kind of revenue bill, the measure needs 70 votes in the 105-member House. Carter, a Baton Rouge Republican, said the last 10 or so votes were out of reach. He bitterly denounced distorted attacks on the bill, including by the Louisiana Republican Party and the anti-tax, billionaire-funded pressure group Americans for Prosperity.

Some of the Republican leaders in the House, though, backed the Carter bill, as did dozens of business and industry groups from across the state.

Given the hot partisanship in the Republican-led House, Gov. John Bel Edwards kept a low profile on the issue, although his head of the Department of Transportation and Development, Shawn Wilson, laid out a persuasive case for it in testimony in the House and in speeches around the state. Every corner of Louisiana would have benefited.

Despite the lack of a recorded vote, we know who some of the something-for-nothing crowd are. State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, replied to Carter’s remarks by saying that his constituents don’t want any more taxes.

Obviously, they want roads and other projects. It’s the job of a leader to pay the bills. It’s the assumption of Seabaugh and others that they were elected to be followers, not leaders.

A rich irony in Seabaugh’s whining is that a gas tax increase polls well statewide. People know, apparently better than their so-called representatives, that something-for-nothing is a fairy tale.