Newsmaker of the Week: Rep. Steve Carter

In late April, State Rep. Steve Carter sat quietly toward the back of a ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel and listened as government, think-tank and industry leaders grasped for solutions to the Capital Region’s well-documented traffic woes.

Carter, a Republican representing parts of Baton Rouge, slipped out of the transportation summit early to meet with lawmakers at the Capitol. On his way out, he pitched his solution to the problems identified by the speakers of the event, which included Congressman Garret Graves, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson: Increase the state’s tax on gasoline.
“There’s about four or five members from Baton Rouge,” who were willing to get on board, he told Daily Report at the time, “so we’re hoping to get them and a few more members who realize something needs to be done.”

Though the tax was originally billed as a 17-cent hike, Carter made a last-ditch effort to lower it to a 10-cent increase to gain support after legislators wavered on the bill late last month.

This week, the months-long push—from Carter, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration, business leaders and others—to raise the gas tax died without a vote. Carter pulled the bill, unable to get the 70 votes needed in the House of Representatives.

Advocates had pushed hard for the gas tax increase. The state’s current rate has not been increased since 1990, and supporters seized on reports finding Louisiana—and particularly the Baton Rouge area—has worn-down and congested roads.

Proponents said the move would shore up dollars for badly needed infrastructure projects.

But opponents were equally as staunch in their opposition. Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative political advocacy group that opened a Louisiana chapter in 2014, campaigned heavily against the move. The state GOP party came out against the proposal as well, despite the fact that a Republican was carrying the bill. The Louisiana chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business also fought an increase.

I ran for the House of Representatives to make a change for this city I love so dearly and have fought to cut wasteful spending and make investments in education and transportation,” Carter wrote on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. “…However, I’m not willing to force my colleagues to waste their time on voting on an issue when it will not pass.”

Carter, in conceding he didn’t have enough support, applauded BUILD IT, a statewide coalition of more than 20 business groups that lobbied for the tax hike to fund road maintenance and megaprojects like a new Mississippi River bridge in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“AFP activists across the state should be elated by this victory. It’s theirs,” AFP Louisiana State Director John Kay said in a statement after Carter pulled his bill, adding its defeat is a “major accomplishment.”

The failure this session does not bode well for proponents of the tax hike. The Legislature is only allowed to consider taxes in odd-numbered years, unless a special session is called, and the next regular session in which it could be debated is in 2019, which is an election year.
Public support for an increased gasoline tax was less than clear. A widely cited annual survey from LSU in March found a majority supported an increase of up to 20 cents. Earlier this month, a Southern Media & Opinion Research poll found 67% oppose a gas tax hike of 17 cents.

And as of now, plan B is up in the air.

“The state can’t solve this problem for the near term—and that is on the legislators, as a body, for failing Louisiana,” Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp noted earlier this week.

—Sam Karlin

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