Louisiana will spend $300M new dollars annually on state's crumbling road with new law

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Louisiana Capitol

Louisiana will eventually begin spending $300 million new dollars each year on the state's crumbling roads and bridges after Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill dedicating an existing tax stream into law Friday.

Republican House Speaker Pro-tem Tanner Magee's House Bill 514 was rewritten three times before reaching it's ultimate destination. Magee and Republican Sen. Rick Ward of Port Allen were the architects.

"It’s a great day for the future of Louisiana’s economy," Magee told USA Today Network. "We rank 47th in infrastructure and this investment will pave the way to brighter days. I appreciate the governor for working with Sen. Ward and I to limit the future impact on other budget priorities."

Magee's bill  began as an instrument to tax the smokable marijuana in the state's medical pot program, then morphed into a new sales tax bill to fund infrastructure before finally passing as a proposed mechanism to upgrade Louisiana's infrastructure.

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In the end, the bill had nothing to do with pot, and the effort to make a temporary 0.45-cent sales tax permanent fell by the wayside.

Lawmakers instead settled on a bill that would gradually move 60% of the existing vehicle sales tax — about $300 million per year — from the general fund where it pays for hospitals, healthcare and education, to the Transportation Trust Fund's construction subfund.

"I'm super excited," Ward said Friday. "It's a big win for the transportation and infrastructure needs around the state. Anything that significant takes lot of back and forth, but what we saw was when we finally got it into the right spot everybody supported it."

Though the transfer won't begin taking place until the 2023-2024 fiscal year, the state can began borrowing money on the future revenue stream immediately.

More:Louisiana's legislative Session 2021: Marijuana, sports betting, tax reform, roads

Edwards, a Democrat, had been on the fence about whether to sign or veto the bill because of his concerns the diversion could create a general fund deficit.

But bill Magee and Ward noted they put safeguards in place that would reverse the diversion during a budget crises.

According to the White House, there are 1,634 bridges and more than 3,411 miles of highway in poor condition. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 9.3% in Louisiana and on average, each driver pays $667 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair.

The state has a $14 billion backlog in maintenance of existing roads and bridges, which doesn't include proposed new infrastructure.

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.