Louisiana’s governor said he won’t back a proposal to raise the state’s long-stagnant gas tax rate this year, citing the financial struggles that families and businesses are facing from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said on his monthly radio call-in show Thursday that he won’t endorse a plan to increase Louisiana’s 20-cent-per-gallon excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel, a plan expected to be debated when the legislative session begins in April. He also said he doesn’t believe a bill to raise the rate would garner the two-thirds support needed to pass the House of Representatives and the Senate in light of the public health crisis.
“I am not going to be supporting that this year,” Edwards said on the Louisiana Radio Network program in response to a question about his stance on increasing the gas tax.
A bill to raise the gas tax had not been prefiled for the session as of Friday, but Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, has agreed to carry the legislation, which is expected to be titled the Government Reform in Transportation, or GRIT, Act.
The GRIT Act proposes an immediate gas tax increase of 10 cents followed by a 2-cent increase every other year through 2033, according to a tentative summary from the Louisiana Coalition to Fix Our Roads, a group of more than 100 businesses and organizations pushing the plan. In addition to raising the gas tax, the bill would impose fees on electric and hybrid vehicles.
The coalition believes that increasing infrastructure funding and raising Louisiana’s gas tax rate, which has been the same since 1990, is overdue. According to the coalition, 31 states have increased their infrastructure funding since 2013, and the condition of Louisiana’s roads and bridges are ranked 48th in the nation.
In November, the coalition said the bill would immediately raise $300 million in annual infrastructure funding and more than $700 million annually by 2033. The measure would also subject the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to an audit from an independent commission in 2023 that would make recommendations to improve the efficiencies of the agency’s operations.
A January report from the American Petroleum Institute said Louisiana’s total per-gallon state taxes and fees of 20.01 cents on fuel rank below the national average of 36.83 cents for gasoline and 37.85 cents for diesel. Carl Davis, research director at the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, told Law360 in November that Louisiana’s current fuel tax rate would sit around 41 cents a gallon if it were indexed to inflation in 1990.
Resilient Louisiana, a task force that Edwards created to brainstorm how the state can recover from the pandemic, recommended in November that the state increase its fuel tax, at least temporarily, to generate more revenue for transportation investments.
On Friday, asked whether Edwards would support a gas tax increase after the pandemic has subsided, among other questions, his office referred Law360 to his remarks on the radio program.
Erich Ponti, the coalition’s president and a former Republican state representative, told Law360 on Friday he believes lawmakers will warm up to the GRIT Act, in part because he said Louisiana’s road funding level is too low to take full advantage of federal programs that provide matching revenue. He said Louisiana needs to be prepared to accept any potential infrastructure funding that may flow to the state from President Joe Biden’s administration.
“With new dynamics in Washington, we must be ready to capture additional federal funds that will come down,” Ponti said. “Our transportation system was limiting our state’s economy before COVID-19, but we have an opportunity now to literally build the foundation for economic prosperity in the future.”
Ponti was referring to the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Senate President Patrick Cortez, R-Lafayette, was unavailable for comment Friday.
McFarland and the office of House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
–Editing by Vincent Sherry.
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