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Look for local transportation solutions, Rep. Steve Carter says

The leader of a failed effort to increase Louisiana’s gasoline tax during this year’s legislative session said he will push for local solutions to the state’s ongoing transportation infrastructure problems.

“Why can’t we as a region vote on whether we want a gasoline tax?” Republican State Rep. Steve Carter asked the Press Club of Baton Rouge. There has been talk of parishes joining together to create regional transportation taxing districts.

Carter also applauded Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s effort to institute a 5-mill property tax that would fund road and other infrastructure improvements, but said he had not seen the list of projects and hasn’t taken a position on it.

“We’ve got to applaud Mayor Broome,” Carter said. “She’s at least trying.”

Broome unveiled her proposal last week, and will ask the Metro Council in August to put the property tax on the November ballot. City-parish voters shot down former Mayor Kip Holden’s Green Light Plan II in December, but Broome says she has the public’s support on her side this time.

Carter lamented the Legislature’s unwillingness to vote for meaningful change on fiscal issues and the House’s rejection of his 17-cent gas tax hike. That proposal—the subject of a grassroots campaign by the Louisiana branch of the Koch brothers-affiliated group Americans for Prosperity—failed earlier this year despite a push from some business leaders.

Increasingly, Carter said, locals will have to take matters into their own hands to find money for things like transportation improvements. But the Legislature still holds much of the power to fund mega-projects like a new Mississippi River Bridge in the Capital Region—local governments, in most cases, simply don’t have the money.

Carter said he will explore creating a multi-parish district that could serve as a regional taxing authority, but that would require changing the state’s constitution, a hurdle that is becoming more and more insurmountable in a divided Legislature.

Another unlikely prospect Carter suggested is for lawmakers to carve out $500 million in the general fund to send to transportation. That idea is perhaps even more tenuous; The state already faces a more than $1 billion budget shortfall next year and has so far been short on solutions.

“We need to do some long soul-searching,” he says.

—Sam Karlin

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