A member of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ task force on infrastructure investment said doubling Louisiana’s gasoline tax is being considered as a way of generating the revenue needed to pay for all of the road and bridge work that will be needed because of the ongoing boom in industrial construction.
Ken Naquin, chief executive officer of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, said while Louisiana let $550 million in infrastructure work out for bid in 2015, the state of Texas is putting out $1 billion a month.
“There’s no way we can build mega-projects under the current funding situation,” Naquin said Wednesday during a panel discussion at the Louisiana Chemical Manufacturing Initiative’s conference at the Renaissance hotel. The LCMI is a consortium of 93 partners that promotes the south Louisiana chemical manufacturing industry, involving organizations such as LSU, the Louisiana Chemical Association, the Louisiana Workforce Commission, Shell Chemical and Performance Contractors.
Currently, Louisiana drivers pay 20 cents a gallon in state fuel taxes, the 41st highest tax burden in the country. Doubling the state tax would mean drivers would pay the highest fuel taxes in the South and the eighth highest in the U.S.
“We can’t get goods and services in and out of our plants right now,” Naquin said.
Along with providing money to maintain roads and bridges, some of the tax revenue would be dedicated for work at south Louisiana ports.
There’s an $800 million backlog in work that needs to be done at south Louisiana ports, including maintenance dredging, and Naquin said only $20 million has been spent on three ports.
The transportation funding panel is set to make its recommendations to Edwards in January. Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, told The Advocate last month the amount of the proposed tax hike may be changed because of the impact of the south Louisiana floods. "We are sensitive to the conditions of our people and the economics of a disaster," Wilson said. "It is never good."
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The LCMI was designated in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Commerce as an Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership, one of two dozen consortiums across the country to earn that honor. It’s also the only IMCP focused on petrochemicals.
Jonathan Shi, director of the LCMI and an engineering professor at LSU, said the consortium was created as a way of leveraging national funding opportunities for the university with the help of large industrial contractors such as Performance, Turner Industries, Cajun Industries, Boh Bros. Construction Co. and PALA Group.
Since earning the designation, more than $2.5 million in funding has flowed into LSU, Shi said. “Our mission is not accomplished,” he said. “This is a work in progress.”