A statewide business coalition that pushed for a new gasoline tax to fund badly needed road and bridge projects around the state knew they were facing an uphill battle before the Legislature.
Still, the defeat Wednesday of the tax hike, which was originally proposed at 17 cents per gallon but later reduced to 10 cents, came as a crushing blow and leaves them trying to answer the question: So what now?
“I think this region will have to grapple with that,” says Scott Kirkpatrick, who heads CRISIS, a Capital Region industry-led group that has been lobbying for transportation infrastructure investment. “Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be talking about what we can do and where we can go. We’ll just have to step back and look at what our opportunities may be.”
Realistically, there aren’t many options. Tolls are one possibility, and could help fund a new bridge across the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. But they wouldn’t generate nearly enough to cover the estimated $1.5 billion cost of the new span. Federal funding would be needed as well, but federal transportation dollars require state matching funds and without the gas tax hike, it’s hard to see where those matching dollars would come from.