The business-based coalition pushing for a statewide gas tax to fund badly needed highway and bridge projects is effectively throwing in the towel for this legislative session.
In a letter sent to its members Monday, Louisiana Coalition to Fix Our Roads Executive Director Erich Ponti says, “As the fifth week of the 2019 legislative session has closed, the opportunity for a timely hearing on HB 542 has also closed. Election year politics, unfortunately, has prevailed over improving the safety and condition of Louisiana’s roads and bridges—and the quality of life of its citizens.”
But Ponti strikes a hopeful tone for 2020 and says the group will continue to push for the tax, building on the momentum generated in support of the bill this year.
“As a direct result of our efforts, road and bridge conditions and the critical need for funding has and continues to earn significant media attention,” Ponti writes. “Infrastructure funding is being supported by more stakeholder organizations than ever before.
We have realized tremendous success!”
Rep. Steve Carter, who has been pushing the measure, also acknowledges the bill is likely dead—due both to the lack of support for a new tax in an election year and the lack of time remaining in the session, which must adjourn by June 6.
But he says he’s still open to the possibility of bringing the bill up for a committee hearing, even though it’s essentially futile. Carter planned to meet with legislative leaders this morning and Rep. Neil Abramson, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to decide what to do.
“We’ll know more in a few hours,” he says.
The bill 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 and dedicate the money to specific projects—including a new Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge—that would be named in the law. Earlier in the session, a controversial provision to also dedicate a portion of state sales taxes to the fund was removed in an effort to increase support.
And the bill did enjoy wide support—even from groups like the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, which rarely supports a revenue measure.
But opposition from Americans for Prosperity and other anti-tax groups, as well as silence on the measure from Gov. John Bel Edwards all but assured its demise in an election year.
Ponti’s group isn’t giving up.
“We will hold a meeting of the Coalition within the next couple weeks to review and discuss the strategy plan going forward to continue to meet and exceed the goals we strategically set last August,” he writes.