The ongoing shotgun approach to increasing the state’s gas tax is looking tougher with each passing day. Now that all of the bills have been filed, attention turns to getting at least one of them out of the House Ways and Means Committee and onto the House floor. A majority of committee members have steered clear of co-authoring any of the proposals and many think an increase upwards of 17 cents will be a challenging sell. Other options are starting to appear on the table—such as the possibility of a different funding source like a small portion of the state sales tax, although that may be just as challenging. There have likewise been very informal discussions—talks that core supporters aren’t necessarily a part of—about fallback positions, like making sure, at the very least, certain legislative elements stay intact, like prohibiting administrative costs; prioritizing projects; and indexing current and future revenue. That said, none of the teams behind the push for a greater gas tax are throwing in the towel. There are still rays of hope to be found on the issue, but it’s going to take some outreach and education—a daunting task with more than 25% of the session already behind us. There are also some hardcore politics at play. Some Republicans, with an eye to 2019, don’t want to give Gov. John Bel Edwards the benefit of having orange barrels all over the state’s highways when he runs for re-election.
—Direct mail pieces hit the House districts of six Ways and Means Committee members as this regular session got underway this month. Digital ads with similar messaging have been cropping up as well. Underwritten by Americans For Prosperity, the mailers focused on opposing a gas tax increase and the addition of new services to the sales tax. They asked voters to contact their legislators and to tell them to “Say no to Gov. Edwards’ tax hike.” The mailers also feature photographs of the governor and the individual lawmakers. So far the mailers have dropped in the districts of Chairman Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, and Reps. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner; Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge; Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales; Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles; and Mike Huval, R-Breaux Bridge. “This is part of a larger strategy to educate citizens on policies being considered by their legislators and to give them the information needed to contact their representatives to make their voices heard,” says AFP State Director John Kay. “It is our stance that the governor’s tax proposals are nothing more than the latest version of his tax and spend song and dance. We believe that tax and budget reform are in order and his office has presented nothing of the sort.”
—They said it: “Special sessions are getting expensive to absorb. We are going to have to lay off five Democrats.” —Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, discussing the legislative budget