A bill that would revamp state transportation spending practices in a bid to restore voter confidence in Louisiana's roads and bridges program breezed through the state House on Thursday.
The measure, House Bill 598, won approval 97-0. It next faces action in the Senate.
While it does not raise money, the legislation is linked to a separate, $510 million hike in the state gas tax that cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday.
Opening a late session controversy, a House panel Tuesday narrowly approved a bill that woul…
That measure, House Bill 632, is dependent on lawmakers approving the revamp bill and others to take effect, if it can win the support of two-thirds of the Legislature.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, sponsor of the measure approved Thursday, said it would require the state Department of Transportation and Development to provide detailed annual reports on road and bridge projects, including status and completion dates.
That differs with current policies, which are mostly limited to a list of transportation projects.
Abramson repeatedly said his bill, which is backed by DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, is aimed at winning back the trust of jaded taxpayers.
"Everybody I hear from ... whether it is reality or whether it is perception, believes that the money we have set aside for infrastructure in the state isn't getting to the right projects," he said.
"It is reform," Abramson told the House. "The purpose of it is to restore confidence."
Under the bill, DOTD would be required to maintain two timelines of projects.
One would include those with dollars assured, and whether the work is on time. The other would include road, bridge and other work that would be possible if dollars are available.
Abramson also said his plan would require 35 percent of any new state aid for transportation to be divided among the state's nine transportation districts for work on non-interstate roads. State aid would be based on road mileages and traffic.
"Every region in the state gets a portion of that slice of the money," he said.
The legislation would require annual reports by the Legislative Auditor to ensure that state transportation spending is being done properly, including performance audits.
Abramson has said his bill and others are needed for any gas tax hike to have a chance of winning final approval.
In a new twist, a legislative leader said Thursday steps are needed to restore voter confide…
The Senate has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban the use of road and bridge funds for State Police, a longtime complaint of taxpayers.
That bill, which is also linked to the gas tax, is awaiting House action.
Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, questioned the value of Abramson's bill.
Jones also said 35 percent for non-interstate maintenance may be less than is being spent now.
"I don't think the bill does much," Jones said. "If it makes him (Abramson) feel good, why not?"
Replied Abramson, "We are never going to make a system perfect. But we can do what we can do to make it the best possible. I think this is a step in the right direction."
The gas tax hike by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, cleared Abramson's committee 9-7.
Whether and when it will be debated on the House floor is unclear, and backers are doing headcounts to see if they can come up with at least 70 votes – a steep climb politically.
The session ends on June 8.