Researchers: Raise Gas Tax for Better Louisiana Roads

Fri August 07, 2009 - Southeast Edition
CEG




BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) Louisiana should raise its gasoline tax to pay for a long list of needed highway improvements, a prominent advocacy group said, even though the Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected such an idea earlier this year.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana (PAR) released a report with a string of recommendations on how to pay for major highway and bridge projects, how to catch up with the estimated $14 billion backlog of unfunded road projects and how to offset a steady decline in federal highway funding.

The group painted a bleak picture for the future of highways if the state can’t identify a stream of money to pay for upgrades. “Failure to act soon will undo recent gains and lead to an inevitable decline,’’ the report said.

Among PAR’s recommendations:

• Raise the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax to 22 cents to pay for the now-insolvent Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development projects, which are ambitious projects that have no future funding.

• Tie the state’s 20-cent per gallon gas tax to the rate of inflation, which the group said would keep the $14 billion backlog from growing even larger. Indexing the tax to inflation would increase revenue for construction each year without requiring lawmakers and the governor to agree.

• Provide $650 million in annual new revenue needed to pay for an existing highway construction program, with the money coming from increases “in some or all of the major highway user fees and taxes, particularly the gasoline and motor fuels tax, auto licenses and truck registration fees.’’

One of PAR’s proposals got little traction in the legislative session that ended in June.

Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, sponsored a bill that would have tied the state gas tax to inflation. Downs pulled the bill from a House committee, saying he knew he couldn’t get it passed after a Jindal adviser testified that the administration opposes any tax increase.