Louisiana bills eye raising revenue for roads

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Multiple Louisiana lawmakers are pursuing changes to help the state address a $12 billion backlog to pay for needed road and bridge work.

The House voted unanimously to advance one bill that would gradually end most money transfers from transportation to State Police. The agency now collects about $70 million annually from the Transportation Trust Fund.

Since 2005, State Police have claimed about $420 million from the fund.

Sponsored by Rep. Terry Landry Sr., D-New Iberia, the bill would gradually wean troopers off money intended to be applied to roads and bridges throughout the state. Specifically, transfers would be trimmed to $40 million this July, $25 million in summer 2016 and $10 million each year thereafter.

Landry told lawmakers HB208 is not an anti-law enforcement effort. It is simply intended to limit “raids” on road money for non-road purposes.

“This bill is not about State Police. It’s about a bad policy and loophole in the law allowed to fester for years and years,” he said while speaking on the Senate floor. “We are $14 billion behind in our Transportation Trust Fund.”

Landry also told lawmakers they must fix the perception that the state is taking money from transportation for other purposes before they go to the public asking them to pay more taxes or fees for roads.

In addition, Landry said he believes money is already available for troopers that will allow the state to fund the agency without “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The bill awaits further consideration in the Senate Finance Committee.

A similar effort in the Senate Finance Committee would reclaim all State Police funding taken from the transportation account. The proposed constitutional amendment offered by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, would prohibit diversions to troopers.

Another bill from Adley would transfer up to $400 million in vehicle sales tax revenue from the state’s general fund to transportation.

Other bills up for consideration at the statehouse to boost road revenue include multiple efforts offered by House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine.

The first bill would raise about $120 million more for local roads throughout the state via the first fuel tax increase in three decades.

Louisiana now collects a 20-cent tax on each gallon of fuel sold in the state. The tax has remained unchanged since 1984.

Local governments claim 1 cent per gallon to fix and maintain roads and bridges, as well as other projects. The rest of the revenue is dedicated to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

HB712 would increase the state’s fuel tax rate by 4 cents per gallon to 24 cents. The new revenue would be routed to the Parish Transportation Fund for local road projects.

The second bill would raise the fuel tax rate between one dime and a quarter for the next decade. HB777 would determine the amount of tax collected on the average price of fuel during the previous six-month period.

As amended, the bill would set the tax rate at 25 cents when the average monthly price is below $3 per gallon, 15 cents when the average is between $3.01 and $4 per gallon, and 10 cents when the average is above $4 per gallon.

It is estimated the bill would raise up to $750 million annually.

Another option offered by St. Germain calls for adding a 1-cent sales tax for 10 years to benefit 15 listed road and bridge projects. It is estimated to raise $7 billion over the next decade.

HB778 would apply the first $100 million raised to the state Transportation Infrastructure Bank. Additional revenue would be sent to a newly created major economic development corridors fund.

“Unless we add this penny for the betterment of our roads for the next 10 years, we will never see the needs of the state infrastructure system met,” St. Germain said in written remarks. “It is a dream to hope it fixes itself. It is a nightmare now.”

Two more bills from St. Germain, HB767 and HB618, would establish a loan fund to help pay for local road and bridge work.

Other proposals at the statehouse also include fuel tax rate increases. HB388 would raise the fuel tax rate by 4 cents for three years.

HB639 would permit parishes to levy an excise tax on fuel. Revenue would be dedicated exclusively for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges.

In addition, HB157 and SB160 would require that at least 15 percent of state surpluses be applied for transportation purposes. Currently, Louisiana law does not include a percentage requirement.

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

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