Louisiana DOTD not pushing for fuel tax hike

| 12/9/2004

If the Louisiana Legislature endorses a 1-cent-per-gallon fuel tax increase to help fund completion of Interstate 49, it will do so without the blessing of the state’s top highway official.

Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry told a joint legislative panel Dec. 8 that taxes to pay for highway work will not be on his agenda until he is certain the agency he took over months ago is maximizing its current revenue.

Bradberry hired a consultant to look at every phase of the department’s operations, including highway financing.

“You have to manage and get the most of what you have today,” he told reporters after the meeting.

Bradberry wants a chance to change things.

“If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting,” he said. “I’m not looking for a tax increase while I’m reworking the department. We have not spent a lot of time looking for ways to bring more revenues into the department.”

The secretary’s position on tax increases could spell trouble for a proposal by state Rep. Billy Montgomery, D-Haughton, to raise the state’s diesel and gasoline taxes by a penny per gallon.

The funds generated would be dedicated to finishing the long-awaited extensions of Interstate 49, which runs from Shreveport to Lafayette.

Montgomery contends that fuel prices change so frequently that drivers would hardly notice a penny addition, which would generate $27 million per year. The funds would match federal dollars to extend I-49 from Shreveport at I-20 to the Arkansas border. A southern extension from Lafayette at I-10 on a southerly route to the west bank of the New Orleans area would be included.

The interstate is expected eventually to run through Arkansas to Kansas City, MO, roughly parallel with U.S. 71.

The I-49 extension has been hailed by state leaders as one of Louisiana’s most important transportation needs, one that would encourage economic development, according to The Times-Picayune.

“It’s too important for me not to try to do something,” Montgomery said.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s office said taxes aren’t currently on her agenda, and she won’t back a tax that Bradberry doesn’t endorse.