State watchdog group tells lawmakers how to pay for Louisiana roads

| 7/29/2009

An advocacy group has released a report advising Louisiana lawmakers to increase the state’s fuel tax to help fund the Bayou State’s lengthy list of needed road and bridge projects. The Legislature and Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected such a plan earlier this year.

The Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana unveiled their findings with a series of recommendations on how to pay for major transportation projects. It says the state needs $650 million annually in new revenue to reduce an estimated $14 billion backlog of unfunded road work. Also addressed is how to offset a steady decline in federal highway funding.

The nonpartisan government watchdog group says an expanded construction program can’t be easily built on revenue shifted from other budgets.

“Unfortunately, raising new revenue is the only option for reducing the backlog of much-needed road construction and maintenance projects,” PAR President Jim Brandt said in a written statement. “Because good roads are so important to the state’s economy, we find that certain dedications would be acceptable as long as they would not impact the level of funding currently going to health care and education. Any acceptable dedication would have to be from new revenue directly related to highway use.”

Options touted include raising the 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax by 2 cents and indexing the tax to inflation. The group says indexing the tax would allow for annual increases without requiring further legislative action.

Other sources of revenue would come from increases to highway user fees and taxes, which include truck registration and vehicle license fees.

Partnering with private groups to put up the money needed to complete projects in exchange for collecting tolls over a set period of time also is recommended.

When pursuing privatization deals, the group encourages state officials to exercise “extreme caution, using maximum transparency and recognizing the limited applicability of this approach.”

The Louisiana Legislature can take up for consideration these and other possible funding methods during the regular session that begins in March 2010.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Louisiana in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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