DALLAS — A transportation coalition is seeking legislative sponsors for Louisiana state constitutional amendments that would raise the gasoline tax and establish a $3 billion bond program for highway efforts.
Driving Louisiana Forward said the additional funding is needed to resolve a $12.8 billion backlog of road and bridge projects.
The advocacy group — which includes highway construction contractors, engineering firms, equipment dealers, and material suppliers — would finance the effort with an increase in the state fuels tax to 30 cents per gallon from the current 20 cents.
The group also proposes hiking vehicle registration fees to support $3 billion of revenue bonds that would allow the effort to get under way quickly upon approval.
Both measures would be indexed for inflation. Passage of the two proposed constitutional amendments would require two-thirds approval in the House and Senate, and by a majority of voters at the next statewide election.
Mike Bruce, chairman of Driving Louisiana Forward, said the group will discuss its proposals with government leaders, civic groups, and business associations before the 2011 Legislature convenes April 25. The session must end by June 23.
The amendments will face serious opposition as lawmakers deal with an estimated $1.6 billion revenue shortfall for fiscal 2012, Bruce acknowledged, but he said the discussion must begin.
State Treasurer John Kennedy was skeptical of the proposal. “I don’t believe it would pass in the Legislature,” he said. “I believe before we ask the taxpayers for more money for roads, we need to do a better job ourselves.”
Kennedy said lawmakers often tell voters that good highways are a top priority, but then focus on other interests when writing the annual capital outlay bill.
“We allocate far less than half of our capital outlay money to roads,” he said, “The bill is full of resort studies, festival land acquisitions, halls of fame, and basketball gyms.”
Kennedy backed a bill in the 2010 Legislature that would have allocated 75% of capital outlay expenditures to transportation infrastructure, but it failed to pass even after the threshold was lowered to 60%.
Jennifer Marusak, communications director for Driving Louisiana Forward, said the 10 cent-per-gallon tax increase would generate $280 million a year for road and bridge projects. The proposed increase in registration fees for private vehicles to $75 a year from the current $15 would generate $200 million a year to support revenue bonds for roadwork, she said.
“We’re just throwing these numbers out to get the discussion started,” Marusak said. “We’re not tied to the 10-cent increase or the $3 billion of bonds. We’re certainly flexible on the ultimate numbers.”
She said the road-financing measures were proposed as constitutional amendments rather than statutes to ease their passage in the Legislature. Constitutional amendments would have to be approved by voters.
“This looks like the only way to get two-thirds approval by lawmakers,” Marusak said. “They would be voting not in favor of the package, but in favor of letting their constituents decide how much money should be spent on road and bridge projects.”
She said the increase in the fuels tax would restore the purchasing power lost through inflation since voters approved the current levy in 1984.
Of the 20-cent-per-gallon state tax, four cents are dedicated to support of bonds for a voter-approved road program and 16 cents flow into the Transportation Trust Fund for construction and maintenance efforts.
“Those 16 cents now provide the equivalent of 7.2 cents,” Marusak said. “To make matters worse, the state used to collect $32 million a year from each penny of the fuels tax, and now each penny brings in $28 million.”