In naming her 1997 memoir “Wait Till Next Year,” historian Doris Kearns Goodwin aptly summarized what it was like to be a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, an allegiance that forced her to think of victory as something in the distance, never near at hand.
“Wait Until Next Year” might also describe Louisiana’s transportation policy, which usually has been an exercise in hope deferred.
This year, as in previous years, the Legislature didn’t do much to improve the sorry condition of so many of the state’s roads and bridges. Wary of new taxes in an election year, lawmakers this session rejected various measures to raise revenue for basic infrastructure. One of the defeated bills, HB778, would have raised the state sales tax by $7.5 billion over a decade to fund 16 major projects. HB777, which would have raised the gasoline tax by 10 cents per gallon to generate $300 million per year for road and bridge work and other improvements, also got a cold shoulder from lawmakers.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, a Denham Springs Republican, said he opposed a 1-cent increase in sales taxes because his constituents believe dollars now meant for roads and highways aren’t being used properly. Roughly $70 million per year is moved from the Transportation Trust Fund to State Police. These kinds of budgetary gimmicks have a long history at the Capitol, but they’ve flourished during the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal, as he engages in shell-game tactics to shore up state finances without seeking new revenues.
The public should be skeptical of a so-called trust fund in which trust gets such short shrift, and surely the first step in building public support for transportation spending is an honest accounting of how current state tax dollars ostensibly set aside for roads and bridges are being used.
But even when the politically expedient bookkeeping of the state budget is factored in, an undeniable reality looms: State spending on infrastructure simply hasn’t kept pace with the state’s growth. Creating — and selling — a credible plan for addressing Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog in infrastructure needs should be at the top of the to-do list when Louisiana’s next governor takes office in January.
For any prospect of meaningful change on this issue, of course, we’ll have to wait until next year.