Louisiana bills would aid highway funding

| 5/30/2007

A pair of measures in the Louisiana Senate are intended to route more money to roadways in the state to help pay for a $14 billion backlog of needed improvements.

Sponsored by Sen. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, the first bill would increase state aid for roads and bridges by $621 million a year.

Sen. Mike Michot, R-Lafayette, authored another bill – SB52 – that would earmark some state sales and use tax dollars to parishes for road work. Distribution of taxes would be based on the individual parish’s car and truck sales.

Ellington’s bill – SB258 – would direct $496 million annually from the state general revenue fund to the highway improvement fund. The money that now is routed to the general fund comes from vehicle and parts sales tax revenues, mineral revenues and truck registration fees.

Another $125 million from the highway fund would be protected from diversion to other services, including retirement and other benefits to former state highway workers and traffic control assistance for the State Police.

Johnny Bradberry, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said something must be done. He said the state’s backlog of road needs is increasing by up to $400 million a year, The Advocate reported.

Ellington said the effort is an efficient way to increase funding for roads without boosting taxes. He also said increasing taxes is unnecessary during a time of booming state revenue.

Opponents to the plan say redirecting money from the general fund into a transportation-only account would affect other state services.

Supporters point to figures that show the state is expected to finish the current financial year June 30 with a surplus of $1.2 billion. Combined with the $830 million surplus remaining at the end of the previous financial year and the possibility of another $1 billion in surplus for the financial year that wraps up in June 2008 would equate to an extra $3 billion in revenue for the state, The Advocate reported.

Both bills are awaiting consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

A separate bill also is intended to protect funding for roads and bridges. Sponsored by Sen. Robert Adley, D-Benton, the bill would prohibit the state DOTD from appropriating, dedicating or using money in the Transportation Trust Fund to pay operational expenses.

Adley’s bill – SB132 – is awaiting consideration on the Senate floor.

One other bill would generate revenue for road work by imposing surcharges for repeat traffic violations and drunken driving.

Sponsored by Rep. Don Trahan, R-Lafayette, the measure would route money from surcharges, assessed on a points’ basis, to pay for major construction projects throughout the state.

Dubbed the “Driver Responsibility Program,” the bill mirrors a Texas program that provides hundreds of millions of dollars each year for road work. According to a fiscal analysis of the bill, the Louisiana program would produce $24.5 million in surcharges.

The bill – HB401 – is awaiting a final vote on the House floor.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor