Road issues, tax reform bills top ’21 session, Rep. Brown says

Staff Report

The state may be heading the right direction on road improvement and tax reform, based on legislation lawmakers approved during the recently concluded 2021 Legislative Session.

Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine

A budget lawmakers finalized two weeks before conclusion of the session – a rarity in state government – allowed more time for focus on other major issues for the state, said state Rep. Chad Brown, D-Plaquemine.

“Certainly, the budget wasn’t as big an emphasis this session because we did have some federal rescue money that helped us in a number of areas,” he said.  “But, of course, part of that is making sure we’re fiscally responsible and not revisiting the problems we had after Katrina and Rita with the federal money coming in back then.”

Restrictions in the America Rescue Plan may have helped, he said.

Brown believes those stipulations will stop states from irresponsible fiscal decision, but he’s uncertain how voters will respond to the tax reform issues they will decide upon this fall.

A centralized sales tax collection will likely lead to apprehension among voters.

The plan, pushed by state Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, would put all sales tax collection and distribution – local, state and parish -- under the control of one state entity.

The biggest concern has been focused on whether local governments would be able to continuing the auditing process as they have done in the past, and just exactly what the collection process would look like, Brown said.

“The devil will be in the details,” he said.  “Naturally, my parish officials were against it. And I think we had many local officials that were hesitant throughout. I probably had more pushback from the parishes I represent, particularly Iberville.”

If approved by voters, the implementation would go before state lawmakers for final approval, which would require a two-thirds vote.”

Issues on road construction and improved paved the way for what could lead to greater focus on upgrades in coming years.

Discussion went through several routes, ranging from the gasoline tax hike (proposed by Winnfield Republican Rep. Jack McFarland), and a proposal by state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sought permanent use of the .45-cent sales tax – currently used for budget stabilization -- for road and bridge construction after its expiration in 2025.

Lawmakers opted for a proposal that shifts money from the general fund to road construction and repairs, as a means of alleviating traffic woes and chipping away at a $14 billion backlog of projects for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“The bill we ended up passing I still think is a good measure, and it has some protection in there,” Brown said. “We went from one member proposing a gas tax, and then an extension of the .45 sales tax which would’ve been more palatable to Gov. Edwards even thought we had groups both sides of spectrum against any extension of a tax. The bill we passed I still think is a good measure, lot of potential, most of which is passing off motor vehicle tax for badly needed Mississippi River Bridge.”