A task force named by Gov. John Bel Edwards proposed Thursday that state aid for roads and bridges increase by $700 million per year, and that raising the state gasoline tax is the "most reliable" way to do so.
"That is what we are asking," said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development and co-chair of the panel. "That is what we need to fix what we need to fix, and achieve what we need to achieve."
The panel, which scheduled a final vote on the plan Dec. 13, did not specify how to finance the yearly boost.
However, a resolution that spells out the recommendation said the state gasoline tax is "the most reliable, proven and meaningful source of funding," but other sources of revenue should also be considered as part of the package.
The state gasoline tax, which is sure to be a big part of any funding plan, would have to be increased by about 23 cents per gallon to come up with $700 million in new dollars per year.
The panel also recommended increases in a variety of commercial truck fees to finance bridge improvements statewide.
Exactly how to raise $700 million, or another financial target, would be left to the governor. All the suggestions were discussed through a series of resolutions that will be the basis of a report submitted to Edwards by Jan. 1, 2017.
The governor named the panel to find ways to tackle Louisiana's $13 billion backlog of road and bridge needs and $16 million list of mega projects, including a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.
The state's $13 billion backlog of needed road and bridge work is mostly for highway work, h…
The committee envisions part of any new money being used for work like the bridge, which carries a pricetag of at least $1 billion and is the top priority of some Baton Rouge area leaders and lawmakers.
The meeting followed months of public hearings and other gatherings designed to come up with possible solutions.
However, any recommendations adopted by Edwards, and submitted to the Legislature next year, are sure to spark controversy.
A state task force on how to repair Louisiana's transportation problems is hearing citizen s…
The state already faces a wide range of budget problems, and tax increases require the support of two thirds of the House and Senate.
"The Legislature will get it and we will go through the political process," Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, said after the meeting.
"I think it is a good starting point, understanding that democracy is a give and take so we will see what happens," said Alario, a member of the study group.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon today, including 20 cents in state gasoline taxes.
On the state tax, 16 cents is for rank and file projects and 4 cents is to pay off a 1989 bond issue for road and bridge work statewide.
Wilson said he is often asked what the gas tax hike would be.
A $700 million yearly hike in state transportation spending would be a practical way to tack…
"It's not how much, it is the need," he said.
Wilson said the $700 million is a long-standing figure in DOTD and based on input from state and local officials.
However, House Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, a member of the task force, has questioned whether taxpayers would back a gas tax increase of 20 cents or so.
Havard was not at Thursday's meeting.
Task force member Ann Trappey, an engineer and chairwoman of the board for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said while $700 million seems like a big number "there are lots of reasons to be bold."
Trappey said that, without a substantial increase in state transportation aid, "we will not be able to manage the expectations of the public."
Ken Perret, president of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, praised the panel's proposal during public testimony.
"I think it is a good opportunity to move the state forward," said Perret, who is in a runoff Dec. 10 for a seat on the Baton Rouge Metro Council.
The task force also recommended increases in registration and special permit fees for commercial trucks.
The revenue would be used to help finance a statewide bridge improvement bond issue.
Special permit revenue now totals $25 million per year.
Registration fees for commercial trucks total $60 million yearly.
The state has 200 bridges closed statewide, 1,000 with posted weight limits and over 750 that have exceeded their 50-year life.
Another proposal, called indexing, would link the state gasoline tax to the rate of inflation or other costs.
The proposals, including the $700 million increase, will be posted online by DOTD for public comments.