When you pull out of the driveway and hit your first pothole — early in the day’s driving, if experience is any guide — you have been introduced to Louisiana’s hidden road tax.
The hidden road tax is part of the cost of driving, and it is influenced by the condition of roads that are not repaired or upgraded to new standards of safety.
A typical motorist in Louisiana pays about $100 a year in state gasoline taxes, the principal source of money for road repairs. About the same amount is paid in federal taxes.
But the roads remain bumpy, meaning in basic repairs such as alignments and broken struts, not to mention accidents attributable to bad roads, and motorists pay several times as much for driving as they pay in driving taxes.
A former state highways official, Kenneth Perret, now heads the Good Roads and Transportation Association, which includes highway contractors and others interested in road expenditures. He told the Press Club of Baton Rouge that the hidden tax of car repairs is estimated at $408 a year for each motorist.
“That bad road tax is real,” Perret said. “It is money coming out of your pocket.”
More tellingly, Perret presented data from national studies about the impact of poor roads across the country.
Louisiana’s road tax is well below the national average, but in states with higher fuel taxes — not surprisingly — the roads are in better shape. So the lack of road repairs that produce a $408 hidden road tax in Louisiana produces only about $128 in higher costs a year in Florida — where drivers pay about twice as much in fuel taxes or use sales taxes or tolls to generate additional revenue. Whatever the source, the drivers still save money overall, because the roads are kept up.
Those are state averages, but in the cities, things are worse.
Perret said drivers in Baton Rouge pay an extra $600 in increased fuel consumption and vehicle maintenance, according to a 2013 study by a national transportation research group. That study counts the seemingly endless hours spent in traffic jams, idling away fuel. In New Orleans, the cost of both car repairs and trip delays comes to $700 a year.
“Automobile insurance costs in Louisiana are among the nation’s highest, in part because of the high number of wrecks and fatalities attributed to road conditions,” Perret’s group reported in a white paper for the fall election campaigns.
It’s a white paper that hasn’t produced courage in candidates.
The 2015 Legislature balked at the idea of raising fuel taxes, after a year in which gasoline costs at the pump had gone down considerably. Perret said none of the four leading candidates for governor has committed to an upgrade in the state’s almost 30-year-old rate of general fuel tax.
The hidden tax, then, is going to be paid again and again.