Louisiana legislator says support building for gas-tax increase

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A Louisiana lawmaker predicted Monday his proposed 22-cent increase of the state’s gasoline tax will attract a “groundswell” of support this year, despite the failure of similar efforts in 2017 and 2019.

Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he will not throw his support behind the tax increase. In a weak economy, he said, he doesn’t think the change can attract support from at least two-thirds of the legislators in each chamber, which is necessary for any tax increase.

Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican who addressed the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday, however, said investing more in Louisiana’s ailing infrastructure would help the state recover from the COVID-19-related recession. The state has a $15 billion road maintenance backlog and a $13 billion wish list for new capacity, and the system’s shortcomings create costs for residents and businesses, including extended travel times and vehicle damage, he said.

“Our roads and bridges are crumbling underneath us,” McFarland said.

McFarland’s legislation has not been filed ahead of the April legislative session. He said it immediately would increase the gas tax by 10 cents, then add 2 cents a year until the increase reaches 22 cents.

Louisiana’s gas tax is among the nation’s lowest and has not been increased in more than 30 years. Louisiana drivers pay 38.4 cents per gallon in taxes, including 20 cents to the state. McFarland’s proposal would more than double the state portion.

Each additional penny in tax would raise about $30 million, McFarland said. The additional revenue also will help state officials draw down $780 million in federal matching dollars that otherwise would go to other states, he said.

McFarland said 60% of the new money would go toward preservation of existing infrastructure, with 40% going to new projects. Specific projects McFarland’s legislation will call for include a new Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River, a new Mississippi River bridge, and the widening of Interstate 12 and Interstate 20, among others.

McFarland also wants to ban using for roads and bridges capital outlay money meant for deferred maintenance of state buildings.

The last bill to raise the state’s gas tax, which the late Rep. Steve Carter carried in 2019, was bottled up in committee and never got a floor vote. That year was an election year for state lawmakers.

The Louisiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, fought the tax hike the last time around.

“Louisianans were clear that this was a bad idea in 2017 and 2019,” James Lee, the group’s deputy state director, said in a recent social media post. “With 320,000 out of work, it’s still a bad idea that will fail once again.”

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