Steve Carter’s proposed gas tax bill, which is effectively dead for the session, will be heard anyway this morning by the House Ways and Means Committee.
With fewer than three weeks left in the session, it’s too late for the bill, which would fund badly-needed highway and bridge projects, to clear both chambers—not that it would have passed anyway. Lawmakers had already made clear they were reticent to vote for a tax during an election year, which is why Carter didn’t bring it up earlier in the session.
But the business groups pushing the proposed tax, which would raise the state’s gasoline tax by 6 cents in the first year then gradually increase it to 18 cents over the next 12 years, say it’s important the measure be heard and that lawmakers understand they’re not going away.
“We want them to hear that we want this for 2020,” says Randy Cangelosi, chairman of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. “We want to lay groundwork so that the governor or future governor hears this is going to be a future issue in 2020. We’re going to talk about this in the election.”
Not only will the issue be discussed in the months to come, but it will be something of a litmus test in the gubernatorial and legislative races, according to Erich Ponti, whose group Louisiana Coalition to Fix Our Roads, has been spearheading the gas tax.
“Our coalition has entered the ‘make this an election issue’ phase of our campaign,” Ponti says. “We will state our intention to make this a legislative and gubernatorial election issue, where the coalition will seek candidate commitments to make it a top priority—and a special session topic—in 2020.”
While the bill calls for raising the gasoline tax, it contains several safeguards, namely dedicating the money to a special subfund of the Transportation Trust Fund that only could be used on specific construction projects—including a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.
Cangelosi says it’s critical that citizens get over their distrust of government and pay for projects that will help Louisiana catch up with the rest of the country.
“Infrastructure improves the quality of life and it will help drive economic development and help drive a better economy,” he says. “Eighteen of the red states that voted for Trump in 2016 have since raised their gas taxes 3 to 18 cents each. We have to get with the program.”