Louisiana's 'temporary sales tax' may become permanent to boost roads and bridges
Remember that temporary sales tax Louisiana's Republican Legislature passed and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed in 2018 during the state's last budget crisis?
It could become permanent after the state Senate this week overwhelmingly approved an amendment on an unrelated bill to keep the 0.45-cent sales tax from rolling off the books as scheduled in 2025 in an effort to invest in Louisiana's crumbling infrastructure.
Republican Port Allen Sen. Rick Ward, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, added the amendment, called a "hitchhiker," onto a House bill to tax smokable marijuana when it's added to the state's medical cannabis program.
"I look at it as a new commitment to infrastructure rather than a continuing commitment to the general fund," Ward said in an interview with USA Today Network.
Ward's amendment to House Bill 514 by Republican House Pro-tem Tanner Magee of Houma would gradually reduce the tax from the general fund until it would be totally dedicated to roads and bridges in 2025.
The 0.45-cent sales tax generates about $387 million annually.
It's unclear whether Magee will support the amended bill if it secures Senate passage and returns to the House.
"I'm still reviewing what they did," Magee said. "I don't want to lose my bill."
Extending the sales tax could meet resistance in the more conservative House.
Though the Senate approved the amendment on a 27-10 vote, it did meet vocal opposition in the chamber from Democratic New Orleans Sen. Joseph Bouie, who said, "We gave our word (it would roll off)."
Bouie also said sales taxes are regressive with the biggest burden placed on low-income residents.
Louisiana has the No. 2 highest combined sales tax burden in the country at 9.52%, trailing only Tennessee, according to the Tax Foundation, though a large portion of that is because of high local sales taxes. Louisiana's 4.45% state sales tax rate is No. 38 in the United States.
The 0.45-cent tax was passed in 2018 during a budget crisis where higher education and healthcare were threatened because of revenue shortfalls.
"We put this in to right the ship and we've done that," Ward said.
He said funding for infrastructure is critical for the state's future.
"When you leave Louisiana in any direction you're on better roads," he said. "It's more than an embarrassment. It hinders everything we do from economic development to attracting families."
The bill next goes to the Senate Finance Committee.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.