DALLAS — A Louisiana bill proposing $3 billion of revenue bonds for state road projects died in a legislative committee Tuesday when its sponsor voluntarily deferred it due to opposition from lawmakers and Gov. Bobby Jindal. The bill would have raised the state’s private-vehicle registration fee to $30 from $10 to support up to $3 billion of bonds for 42 projects in 27 parishes.
Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee, withdrew HB 483 from consideration. The move came as executives of several highway trade groups were at the witness table to testify in support of his proposal.
The withdrawal effectively kills the proposed legislation in this session.
Downs met Monday night with Jindal, who reiterated his opposition to new state taxes or fees. The bill called for a constitutional amendment, which would not need the governor’s signature to become law.
He said the measure would generate $200 million a year to support the bonds. If annual revenues exceeded $200 million, the additional funds would be constitutionally dedicated to early redemption of the outstanding debt.
The bill was based on last year’s proposal from Driving Louisiana Forward, a coalition of highway construction contractors, engineering firms, equipment dealers, and material suppliers. Their original proposal called for hiking the state gasoline tax in addition to the fee increase in Downs’ legislation.
Jennifer Marusak, a spokeswoman for the group, said the demise of the measure was “very disappointing.”
“We’ve done all we can do to provide a funding source for roads, and now all we can do is make sure this issue is brought up in the campaigns,” Marusak said. “We will be back.”
She said the road program was structured as a constitutional amendment because that would allow the voters to decide. Its passage required approval from two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters.
Marusak attributed the quashing of the proposal to Jindal’s strong opposition to it during Monday’s meeting with Downs.
“The governor was very clear with Downs,” she said. “Jindal told him no fees, no taxes, not now, not ever.”
Rep. Barbara Norton, D-Shreveport, said her constituents would not support the $20 increase in private vehicle fees. “There’s no way I or the other members could go back to our districts and say we increased your car fees from $10 to $30,” she said. “The people in my district on fixed incomes or unemployed would be devastated.”
Rep. Herbert Dixon, D-Alexandria, said the deferral was a mistake when the state is facing a $12.6 billion road project backlog.
“This work will get done only when the funds are available to get it done,” Dixon said. “We’re living in a political fairyland. This is not going to happen this day, but one day it must.”
In a presentation Monday to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, Downs said the road bonds were an investment in Louisiana’s infrastructure, and would generate thousands of construction jobs.
“It is critical,” he said. “This is not a tax. It is a fee. It has nothing whatsoever to do with living within your means.”