Trump infrastructure plan will help rural Louisiana, but state match a ‘challenge,’ Edwards says

    President Donald Trump’s newly released infrastructure plan could send much-needed money to fix rural Louisiana’s roads and bridges, Gov. John Bel Edwards said after a White House meeting today. But the funding mechanism—requiring states, locals and private companies to pony up most of the money—leaves the cash-strapped state at a disadvantage when it comes to leveraging the federal dollars.

    “They are going to look for state and local governments to put more skin in the game,” Edwards said in an interview with Daily Report. “That’s going to pose a challenge for us.”

    Trump’s plan, if approved by Congress, would spend $200 billion on infrastructure projects in the U.S., with the White House claiming additional spending by state and local governments, along with partnerships with private companies, pumps it into a $1.5 trillion spending program.

    Around $100 billion of the plan comes in the form of incentives to entice those local and state governments to spend their own money. Edwards said the provision renews the need for more state dollars, and he will gather stakeholders and lawmakers in the search for a palatable revenue-raising idea. A statewide gas tax hike failed last year and Edwards said it will not come up again this year.

    But a $50 billion pot of money—earmarked for things like roads and bridges in rural areas—will be most beneficial to Louisiana.

    “That will probably turn out to be the single most important piece of this entire plan,” Edwards said.

    The state shut down 48 rural bridges last year and four already this year, according to the governor, making rural funding increasingly important.

    Edwards said he brought up several “critical” infrastructure needs the state has in the White House meeting today—which included top cabinet officials and others. Among those was funding for the long-delayed Comite River Diversion Canal, which has pit the Democratic governor against Republican Sen. John Kennedy, in recent weeks.

    Baton Rouge will soon benefit from the widening of I-10 from the Mississippi River Bridge to the split, a $600 million project funded through a federal bond program. That won’t impact Louisiana’s ability to tap into the new White House infrastructure plan, Edwards said.

    Officials here have worried for months that the White House’s stance on infrastructure—requiring a far greater contribution from local sources, essentially flipping the 80% to 20% ratio—would leave Louisiana out in the cold. It’s also tough for Louisiana’s major cities to compete nationally for public-private partnerships and federal dollars. Edwards reiterated today the state will squander available federal dollars if it can’t pony up enough money.

    “We don’t want our federal tax dollars going to Washington then going to other states because we couldn’t afford the federal match,” he said.

    Still, the package is on top of the existing federal transportation funding system, and Louisiana is better off with the proposal than without it, the governor added.

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