Louisiana House panel delays action on highway bills

| 6/1/2007

Several bills in Louisiana calling for fees and taxes to be redirected from the state treasury to transportation have been put on hold.

The House Appropriations Committee opted to push the highway bills to the side in order to focus on the state’s budget bill – HB1. The panel recently heard testimony on the bills but took no votes.

Rep. John Alario, D-Westwego, the panel’s chairman, said he would like to advance the budget bill to the chamber floor as soon as possible. What becomes of the budget bill will play a large part in the fate of the highway revenue measures.

One revenue measure – HB168 – awaiting further consideration would divert all of the 4 percent state sales tax assessed on cars and trucks. About $360 million annually would be routed to a special highway program, not the state treasury, for non-federally funded roads.

Sponsored by Rep. Mack “Bodi” White, R-Central, the bill would require the funds collected to stay in the parish that owners reside or store their vehicle. The money would be used to finance projects the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development has outlined based on needs that don’t have funding, The Times-Picayune reported.

A 2010 sunset provision is included in the bill to reassess the need to continue the diversion of funds.

A similar bill offered by Rep. Joel Robideaux, I-Lafayette, doesn’t include a sunset date. It would give parishes more say in how they spend the money directed to them. The only requirement would be the projects are included in the state’s priority program.

The bill is HB165.

House Transportation Committee Chairman Roy Quezaire, D-Gonzalez, has offered another bill would direct more than $400 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.

Quezaire’s bill – HB722 – is similar to a bill in the Senate offered by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro. That bill is SB258.

– Keith Goble, state legislative editor