The task force assigned with determing the best path to address Louisiana’s growing infrastructure deficit and backlog - aptly named CRISIS - has presented its first recommendation to Gov. John Bel Edwards.
A 17-cent gas tax.
It’s been 30 years since a gax tax was approved, and was then ratified by citizens at the polls. The increase set the bar at 20.01 cents per gallon in Louisiana - which is about 7.5 cents today, due to inflation.
Now, a 17-cent addition will push Louisiana from No. 42 in the national ranking for gas tax to No. 9, just ahead of Florida at 36.8 cents and behind New Jersey at 37.1 cents.
The move makes sense from Baton Rouge, which is in dire need of infrastructure help. The projection is that 17 cents an extra, per gallon pumped, will generate $500 million per year for the state.
The fascinating thing about the fiscal situation Louisiana currently faces - across the board - is that it took years to get here, and it will take years to fix.
At a Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce breakfast this week, LABI - a business lobbying and advocacy group in Louisiana - President Stephen Waguespack stated the Bayou State’s money issues are “90 years in the making.”
That’s a tough pill to swallow for most, because in the age of immediate gratification, thinking long-term is almost non-existent.
Sadly, there is no quick fix. The Department of Transportation and Development faces a current backlog of $13 billion on regular projects and maintenance.
That doesn’t include the nearly $16 billion in mega-projects - a new Mississippi River Bridge, I-10/12 loop, etc.
So, even if the current administration could get this proposal through a majority-Republican House and Senate, the voters would still have to ratify the measure.
There are real problems that crop up when you want to present an extra tax on gas to fund infrastructure projects. The idea is great, in theory, since those that drive or use public transporation would love nothing more than improved roads.
However, the large metro areas in Louisiana are mostly commuter cities - so any proposal to fix the roads these men and women travel on a daily basis come with an increased cost of gas.
There’s also the consideration that, to this point, the very lawmakers who would be asking for voters to approve this have watched the deficit climb year-over-year with very little - to no - action to solve the problem.
Not to mention HB2, which is Capital Outlay, is bloated with bad projects which include rural courthouse roofs, as well as political favor projects.
Taking it one step further, Louisiana has often - in the past - taken money from one fund to make sure that other funds can continue to operate appropriately.
Put simply - there’s an issue of trust between John and Jane Citizen and Louisiana government. Lawmakers are going to have to make sacrifices and major changes to their operating budgets if they want to accrue some trust.
Does that sound like something that will happen?
Of course, taxes passed during the 2016 session neither met expectations nor filled the holes that needed it. Instead, revenues fell short of projections due to an adjustment by consumers.
Gas taxes could face the same issue, with consumers finding shorter ways to commute, using less gas per household, or even purchasing more fuel-efficient cars - which improve every year.
No, a gas tax may provide a short-term boon, but the problem has become too large for one improved stream of revenue to fix.
Even if the task force comes out with other methods of raising cash flow for infrastructure, if those recommendations don’t include systemic changes to the way money is handled in the Red Stick, relief for roads and expansion of travel routes will be no more than a pipe dream to help those stuck in traffic wait for the next traffic jam to dissipate.