Both sides of the gas tax hike debate rallied Tuesday at the Louisiana Legislature, with backers sporting lime green vests and opponents using a plane that circled the State Capitol for two hours to spread their thumbs down message.

The legislation in dispute, House Bill 542, would gradually boost the gas tax by 18 cents per gallon and is a long-shot to win final approval.

It is pending in the House Ways & Means Committee, where backers flocked Tuesday morning in hopes of calling attention to the issue.

However, the legislation was not on the agenda.

"I am not sure when the bill will be heard," state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the bill told backers later in the day.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, said he plans to confer with Carter and set up a time to hear  the measure.

The election-year effort faces steep odds, and some backers have said it will take two or three years to educate taxpayers on the need for more road and bridge money.

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

Under the bill, which is backed by a wide range of trade groups, the tax would gradually rise by 18 cents per gallon, or $540 million per year.

Carter said he plans to remove another controversial provision, which would allow transportation to gradually garner portions of a "temporary" sales tax – .045 percent – and eventually use that $400 million annually for roads and bridges.

Despite daunting odds he said he is optimistic about prospects for the legislation.

"The bill takes courage," Carter said. "It is an election year. But it is the right thing to do for the citizens of this state."

Carter, who joined the House in 2008, is term limited and plans to seek the state Senate post being vacated by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge.

Meanwhile, opponents of the gas tax boost led by Americans for Prosperity-Louisiana commissioned an airplane to fly around the State Capitol from 11:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.

The message? "LA Can't Afford a Gas Tax Too – AFP," which is based in Virginia and played a key role in defeating a gas tax boost pushed in 2017.

"It was a bad idea in 2017 and a worse idea in 2019 after legislators turned the temporary sales tax increase into a permanent increase," AFP-Louisiana President John Kay said in a statement.

"Legislators should instead move DOTD funding into the general fund and explore private-public partnerships," Kay said.

He said about 100 opponents of Carter's bill were at the Capitol to make their case to lawmakers.

Kay declined to spell out costs of the airplane message.

The legislation is being pushed by about 75 trade groups called The Louisiana Coalition To Fix Our Roads, which is led by former state Rep. Erich Ponti of Baton Rouge.

Ponti derided the airplane message and alluded to the fact that AFP is based in suburban Washington, D. C.

"They are outsiders," he said.

While Ponti's group held its press conference in the Governor's Press Room, Gov. John Bel Edwards has kept his distance from the debate.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.