GOP lawmaker touts proposed gas tax hike

Staff Report

BATON ROUGE – A Republican state lawmaker said Monday he is confident his gasoline tax hike proposal can go the distance during the upcoming legislative session.

State Rep. Jack McFarland

The proposal by state Rep. Jack McFarland of Winnfield would boost the tax 10 cents the first year and add two cents every two years until 2033.

“As someone who has voted against transportation funding bills in the past that have not been balanced between raising revenue and accountability over those dollars, I decided to become part of the solution, instead of the problem,” he told the Baton Rouge Press Club via Zoom Monday.

He touted the bill as a means to potentially help the state recover from the economic hit by COVID-19, including job creation.

The bill proposes to permanently shift 4 cents of the existing 16 cents of the Transportation Trust Fund directly toward construction projects.

Under the proposal, 60 percent of revenues will go toward preservation projects, repair of broken roads and bridges. It would pump 40 percent towards larger capacity projects.

It would shift 3 cents ($90 million) to the sub-fund in 2021 and a penny ($30 million) to the sub-fund in 2025.

Louisiana’s fuel tax has remained at 38.4 cents a gallon since 1987, but the rate of inflation has diminished its value.

Louisiana has the seventh lowest gasoline tax in the nation. Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi have raised their taxes during the past two years.

Distribution of the newly generated funds for investment would go on a 60/40 split.

The majority share would go to preservation, which includes a rural bridge program.

The other 40 percent would cover capacity improvements statewide. The improvement projects would include:

  • Mississippi River bridge at Baton Rouge with connectors
  • Widening of I-12 to six lanes from Baton Rouge to the Mississippi state line
  • I-10/I-49 interchange at Lafayette to New Orleans
  • US 90/Port of New Orleans access improvements at New Orleans
  • I-10 Calcasieu River bridge with connectors
  • Jimmie Davis Bridge in Shreveport/Bossier City
  • I-20 at Monroe from LA 546 to LA 594.

A proposal during the 2017 legislative session reached House floor but was scrapped before it went into discussion.

Louisiana will continue to lag behind the rest of the South on highways and roads if the measure fails, McFarland said.

“A ‘no’ vote means our dollars will continue to go to Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama,” he said.

The vote should be an easy "yes" for lawmakers, according to McFarland.

It would chip away at the $15 billion backlog in road improvement projects on the state Department of Transportation and Developments work list.

It would also help the state retain business and attract new commerce, he said.

“We can invest $13 billion in new capacity projects and give our economy a chance to grow and thrive,” McFarland said. “If we don’t do this, we won’t be able to keep the businesses we have now.”

The state’s current approach to road projects “robs Peter to pay Paul," he said.

No less than 35 percent of the state’s annual capital outlay dollars go to cover matching funds on state projects.

“Think about everything we should be doing with our capital outlay money,” McFarland said.

Approval of the bill would allow the capital outlay dollars to fund other urgent needs, including the aging infrastructure for water and sewer system.

“If we don’t pass this bill, we will continue using those dollars to get federal dollars – that’s what we’re sacrificing,” he said. “It’s a simple problem to fix.”

He also promised transparency through use of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, whose office would present the findings and recommendations to a committee of nine persons – four appointed by the Senate president, four appointed by the Speaker of the House and one appointed by the Governor.

It would also seek local legislative input and approvement of pavement preservation projects, mandate no reduction in funding for the Parish Trust Fund, Port Priority Program or the Statewide Flood Control Program below levels enacted in the FY 2020-21 budget.

It would also establish a Louisiana Road and Bridge project website updated in real-time.