Senate panel advances $380 million annual sales tax to boost Louisiana's crumbling roads
A Louisiana Senate panel advanced a $380 million annual sales tax bill Wednesday as a way to address Louisiana's crumbling roads and bridges.
The Senate Finance Committee voted 7-4 in favor of House Bill 514 that would make the state's 0.45-cent temporary tax permanent.
Republican Sen. Rick Ward of Port Allen said it's the only way to put a dent in Louisiana's $14 billion backlog of road maintenance and new construction.
It was Ward who added the sales tax through an amendment to Republican Houma Rep. Tanner Magee's original bill designed to tax smokable marijuana once it's added to the state's medical pot program.
"This is my 10th year," Ward said. "We had an $11 billion backlog when I came here and a $14 billion backlog now. We have to do something."
What's next for the bill?
The bill now goes back to the full Senate, which had previously voted 27-10 in favor of the measure, exceeding the two-thirds vote needed for a new tax. But Ward's amendment sent the bill back to Senate Finance for another debate and must get another two-thirds approval in the full Senate.
The 0.45-cent tax was passed in 2018 during a budget crisis where higher education and healthcare were threatened because of revenue shortfalls. It's scheduled to roll off in 2025.
"We have lived up to our committment; we have fixed our budget," Ward said. "Now it's time for a new commitment."
He emphasized that the money could only be spent on construction, something Senate Finance Chairman Bodie White, a Baton Rouge Republican, emphasized in his support of the amendment.
"It's something we've never done in this state," White said.
But opponents like Republican Metairie Rep. Cameron Henry said the Legislature should keep its commitment to let the tax expire.
He noted that Louisiana has the No. 2 highest combined sales tax burden in the country at 9.52%, according to the Tax Foundation.
"I'll never be comfortable making it permanent," Magee said.
If Ward can get another two-thirds vote in the Senate, the bill faces an uphill battle when it returns to the more conservative House, where it would need at least 70 votes to reach the two-thirds threshold in the 105-member chamber.
The newly formed 41-member House Conservative Caucus led by Republican Winnfield Rep. Jack McFarland came out against the bill Wednesday. If the caucus voted as a block it would doom the bill.
Ward’s amendments to the medical marijuana tax bill would also phase out a temporary sales tax levied on business utilities by 2031, returning a tax break sought by industry groups but six years after the original planned removal of the tax.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.