A Baton Rouge lawmaker and others are preparing legislation to increase the state's gasoline tax by up to 17 cents per gallon, which would raise more than $500 million annually for roads and bridges.
"We have to do something," state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge said in an interview Wednesday.
In addition, an ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards said he is considering a measure for a gas tax hike that, if approved by the Legislature, would have to be endorsed by voters to take effect.
The governor expressed interest in just such an idea in January.
Carter said he is conferring with a Baton Rouge area transportation advocacy group called CRISIS, and members of the Baton Rouge area legislative delegation, to draft legislation for the 2017 regular session, which begins April 10.
"I don't know who is going to file it," he said.
The proposal, even though it is still being crafted, marks the first time that a state lawmaker has attached his name to a specific gasoline tax increase.
Each penny hike in the state's gasoline tax raises about $30 million per year.
"It is probably going to be 15, 16, 17 (cents)," Carter said.
He said he especially wants road and bridge relief for the Baton Rouge area, which Gov. John Bel Edwards has said is in dire need of relief.
"There is no place in the state that has a greater need than Baton Rouge," the governor said on Jan. 11.
The Capitol City has become the site of near daily traffic gridlock, especially near the "new" Mississippi River bridge.
Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of CRISIS, said his group is in talks with lawmakers and others statewide.
"There is unanimity among the business community that we have to do something," Kirkpatrick said. "And nobody believes, absent revenue, you can do anything meaningful."
He said CRISIS would like to see a $500 million to $600 million increase in yearly transportation spending.
A task force named by Edwards in December recommended a $700 million per year increase in state aid for roads, bridges and other forms of transportation. Doing so would require an increase of 23 cents per gallon, if that was the sole source of the new money.
In a new twist, Edwards is not expected to offer his own plan for tackling road and bridge troubles.
Less than a month before the 2017 regular legislative session begins, the upcoming debate on…
The governor is instead preparing to endorse bills that he sees as offering solutions for transportation problems, which allies said could help provide political cover.
Carter heads the Capital Region Legislative Delegation, which met with Edwards on Monday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday state budget problems mean it would be "very difficult"…
Whether a gas tax hike like the one he is considering wins the support of the delegation remains to be seen.
"There are a number who will support it, there are some that have reservations about it," Carter said.
Any tax hikes require the support of two thirds of the state House and Senate.
Those hurdles will be especially tough to navigate in a session where budget problems will again dominate the gathering, including tackling another major shortfall.
"Me as a Republican, they are going to jump on me for raising taxes," Carter said. "But what are we going to do?"
Meanwhile, state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said Wednesday he is gathering information for a possible transportation bill that, he said, would likely boost the gas tax by less than Carter's plan.
"What I think is different from his approach and mine is if we are going to support something it would have to go to a ballot," Jones said. "I think the people should have an opportunity to vote for it or against it."
Even a ballot measure would require the support of two thirds of the state House and Senate, and a majority of voters statewide, to take effect.
If that happens, Jones said, it would be clear that voters are willing to pay more for roads and bridges. "My guess is it would pass but the amount needs to be reasonable," he said.
Opponents of putting the issue on a statewide ballot contend the problem is obvious and can be addressed solely by the Legislature.
"We are not supportive of it going to the ballot," Kirkpatrick said.
State Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge, disagreed.
"I think probably putting it on the ballot makes the most sense to get the buy-in from the citizens, whether or not they want it," he said.
Foil is among lawmakers undecided on what any transportation aid plan should say.
"We need to do something and we have to find a source of additional revenue to make that happen," he said. "But I am not sure what is the right solution right now."
Not everyone is enthused about spending more for transportation.
John Kay, Louisiana state director of the conservative leaning Americans for Prosperity, said before any tax hike is considered current transportation spending practices need to be scrutinized, including whether too much is going for overhead.
"That is a big concern of ours," Kay said.
He said the group plans to be involved in this year's debate, including the release of a video in the next few days on Louisiana's gasoline tax.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in state and federal taxes, including 20 cents of state charges.
A boost of 15 cents per gallon would raise $450 million per year. A 16-cent boost equals $480 million annually, and 17 cents would generate $510 million annually.
The state has two transportation backlogs that total $29 billion. One is for rank-and-file projects, including maintenance, and totals $13 billion. The other, for mega projects, totals $16 billion.
That list includes a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, one of the priorities of area lawmakers and business leaders.