GOP lawmaker: Gas tax measure offers strong ROI for infrastructure needs

Despite the pandemic-triggered hit to the state’s economy, Louisiana cannot afford to keep putting off its infrastructure problems, state Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield, said today as he unveiled the details of his proposed Government Reform in Transportation, or GRIT, Act to the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

While his bill would have a state gasoline tax fund Louisiana’s crumbling roads and bridges, it also includes sweeping reforms of spending and operations at the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development—which, as previously reported by Daily Report, makes it different from unsuccessful gas tax attempts in recent years.

“One thing we cannot do is innovate our way out of a $15 billion backlog of infrastructure projects, and we can’t build $13 billion worth of new capacity projects without new money,” McFarland told reporters. “I’m tired of pretending we can do this, because we can’t.”

The bill would raise the state’s gas tax by 10 cents in the first year and by an additional 2 cents every other year until 2033, when it would be a total of 22 cents higher than its current 20 cents. Each 1-cent increase would raise an estimated $30 million, which by 2033 would equal some $660 million a year in new revenue.

Under McFarland’s bill, 60% of those revenues will go toward preservation projects—fixing broken roads and bridges—while 40% will go toward larger “capacity projects,” including a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

A $400 annual fee would be placed on electric vehicles, with a $270 annual fee placed on hybrids.

The GRIT Act would also permanently shift 4 cents of the existing 16 cents of the Transportation Trust Fund directly toward construction projects. (The sub-fund, created jointly by voters and the Legislature in 2017, currently contains no money for construction, though its purpose is to guarantee that all dollars go toward direct project costs.)

McFarland says $780 million in federal funds will come next year with his legislation.

“A ‘no’ vote means you want to give that away to Texas or Arkansas or Mississippi while our people suffer,” McFarland says, noting 34 other states have increased investments in their roads and bridges since 2013, including every Southern state. “They understood for every $1 invested in road and bridge construction, it returned $4 to the economy.”

In Louisiana, this 400% ROI will help boost the state’s general fund, says McFarland, which in turn means more spending will be allocated to higher ed and health care.

Still, McFarland acknowledges his greatest challenge will be gaining support from enough Republican and Democratic lawmakers and other stakeholders. He’s already met with Senate President Clay Schexnayder and House Speaker Page Cortez, saying he’s “continuing to address their concerns” and is “encouraged by their response.” McFarland is also meeting regularly with DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson and has made some adjustments to his bill based on Wilson’s feedback.

Additionally, some business organizations like C100 have recently come out in support of the measure, which McFarland finds promising.

“Over the next few weeks, you’ll see significantly more of those [endorsements],” he says. “It will create a swell of support.”

The regular legislative session begins April 12, with McFarland’s bill slated to be filed in the coming days.