ELECTION 2017: Louisiana voters say 'yes' to protecting new road revenue

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/26/2017

Voters in Louisiana have approved an initiative to protect new transportation funds raised in the state.

Constitutional Amendment 3 was approved with 54 percent in support and 46 percent in opposition. As a result, any new fuel tax revenues in the state could not be used for purposes unrelated to transportation and infrastructure.

Specifically, the amendment creates a “construction subfund” in the Transportation Trust Fund account. As a result, any future fuel tax increase must be dedicated solely to construction and maintenance of transportation infrastructure projects. Funding could not be used to cover departmental operational costs.

Critics said the amendment is merely a symbolic gesture that does nothing to improve the state’s transportation system. They say the Legislature and governor’s administration still can move funds around in the budget process.

Opponents add that a better solution would be to ensure the state Department of Transportation and Development is run efficiently.

Approval of the amendment to the state’s Constitution is anticipated to aid efforts to address a $13 billion backlog for transportation needs. Another $10 billion in needs has been identified for “megaprojects” in the state.

In an effort to help address the identified funding needs, at least five bills were introduced during the 2017 regular session to raise the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax rate by at least 7 cents. The tax rate has remained unchanged since 1989 – the same year the Transportation Trust Fund was created.

Leading lawmakers in the Republican-led chamber said at the time they could not support a tax increase because of a lack of confidence with how the state now spends revenue, including the LaDOTD.

Instead, the Legislature approved a bill to put the then-proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he supports legislative efforts to help the state address the backlog. A task force appointed by the Democratic governor recommended an increase of 23 cents.

Louisiana is the latest in a growing list of states to take steps to put protections in place for transportation revenue. In the past three years voters in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and Wisconsin have acted to set up “lockboxes” to require that funds raised are not diverted from transportation purposes.

Voters in California and Connecticut are expected to decide next year on their own transportation lockbox amendments.

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