Business coalition pushing to increase gas tax by 15 to 20 cents

    A new statewide coalition of more than 20 business groups will push during the upcoming Legislative session to increase the existing 38.4 cent gasoline tax by 15 to 20 cents per gallon, which would generate some $500 million annually to pay for badly needed maintenance on the state’s roads and bridges, as well as megaprojects like a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

    That’s less than the 23-cent tax recommended earlier this year by a transportation task force appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. But business leaders at a lunchtime meeting of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber said they want to advocate for a solution that is reasonable and doable yet still significant enough to be effective.

    “We recognize that there’s some political pushback to 23 cents and we hear that, but we also need a gas tax increase that is large enough to have a substantial impact on every region of our state and every legislative district,” says Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of One Acadiana, the economic development organization in the Lafayette area.

    The coalition—which calls itself BUILD IT, or Businesses United for Improving Louisiana’s Development by Investing in Transportation—will push for the tax and other revenue-generating measures in a series of bills that will be proposed during the session that convenes April 10.

    Coalition leaders say they’re making their push now for a couple of reasons. First, recent public opinion polls have shown the voters are fed up with gridlock and are willing to support at least a 15-cent gas tax increase.

    Also, the upcoming session is likely the last opportunity they’ll have for several years to get a gas tax passed. Both 2018 and 2020 are non-fiscal sessions, during which lawmakers cannot take up tax issues, and 2019 is an election year, which means lawmakers are unlikely to vote for new taxes.

    “The next opportunity we’ll have is 2021,” said BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp. “That’s why the creation of this coalition is so critical for this year.”

    The coalition will also push for measures that would prohibit using money in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for anything other than construction on transportation infrastructure projects. Though the Transportation Trust Fund is supposed to be limited to transportation-related programs, the Louisiana Constitution also allows for “transportation-control” expenditures, which has been the justification lawmakers have used in the past to allocate money from the fund to Louisiana State Police.

    “Likely you will see a constitutional amendment proposed to take ‘transportation control’ uses out of the constitution,” El Koubi says. “That would take the Transportation Trust Fund from really tight to iron clad.”

    Additionally, the coalition will support the use of tolls as a means of generating additional revenues for roads and bridges.

    “Tolls are a necessity everywhere they can be used to leverage dollars,” Knapp says. “Also, recognize that the phrase ‘public-private partnership’ has ‘public’ at the front of it.”

    The BUILD IT coalition builds on the work of CRISIS, an industry-led group formed in 2015 to begin devising data-driven solutions to the transportation infrastructure problems specifically in the Capital Region. Knapp says business leaders realized that by expanding CRISIS they could be more effective.

    —Stephanie Riegel

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