Bill would raise gasoline tax by 17 cents a gallon across Louisiana_lowres

 

A group that helped kill the 2017 push for a higher gas tax is launching an unusual ad campaign to derail any similar effort in 2019, officials said Thursday.

The organization is the state branch of the Virginia-based Americans for Prosperity.

The campaign will consist, in part, with airing Christmas-themed videos shown on the screens of gas pumps at heavily-used stations in metropolitan areas across the state.

AFP backers are contacting residents and urging them to reach out to elected officials to convey opposition to any gas tax hike.

Digital ads are also planned.

A bid to increase the gas tax next year is considered unlikely because 2019 is an election year.

However, supporters of more road and bridge money are trying to launch another campaign to raise the gas tax, and possibly have the issue debated in the Legislature next year.

Last year's drive was led by Gov. John Bel Edwards' administration, mostly through his state Department and Transportation Secretary Shawn Wilson.

It would have raised the gas tax by 17 cents per gallon – $510 million per year – but died without a vote on the House or Senate floors.

Backers blamed the defeat in part on Americans for Prosperity, which waged a door-to-door campaign aimed at killing the proposal.

The governor will be on the 2019 ballot in his bid for a second term.

Former state Rep. Erich Ponti is leading a group called the Louisiana Coalition to Fix our Roads, which includes trade groups, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and others.

Ponti said the 20-month effort is meant to "educate" voters and elected officials on the need for more road and bridge money.

Legislation next year to increase the gas tax, even if it is not seriously pushed, could be part of that effort to gradually generate support for the idea, officials said.

Draft legislation to do just that has been circulating.

It includes an initial six-cent increase in the gas tax – $180 million per year – followed by two-cent hikes in alternate years for several years later.

However, no lawmaker has attached his name to the proposal.

Tax hike measures require two-thirds approval in the state House and Senate, always a daunting task.

The regular session begins on April 8.

Louisiana has a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

Wilson has repeatedly said officials are having to rely on innovative methods to finance major new projects, including the governor's $600 million plan to widen Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge between the "new" Mississippi River bridge and the I-10/12 split and other work.

That work is being financed with federal bonds.

Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon, including 20 cents in state taxes.

The Edwards' administration appears to be taking a wait-and-see stance on any 2019 gas tax debate, especially since the governor has said teacher pay raises of $1,000 are his top priority.

Wilson said Thursday that, unless the state can come up with $72 million matching funds next year, and more in subsequent years, Louisiana stands to lose a chunk of its roughly $600 million per year in federal transportation aid.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.