BATON ROUGE — A Republican lawmaker on Wednesday abandoned his efforts to raise Louisiana’s gasoline tax, acknowledging he couldn’t rally enough votes for passage and lashing out at GOP leaders who actively worked to defeat the tax hike.
Baton Rouge Rep. Steve Carter announced that he won’t pursue the tax bill in the remaining days of the legislative session that ends June 8, saying he couldn’t gather the 70 votes needed in the House for the effort to raise hundreds of millions annually for road and bridge work. Carter said he had reached about 60 votes in his tally.
“I know we don’t have the votes. I’m not going to ask you to vote. But please put this on your agenda for the future. We’ve got to solve this problem,” Carter told his colleagues.
Supporters of the tax increase, Republican and Democrat, applauded his effort and vented their disappointment on the House floor. Rep. Chad Brown, a Democrat who lives in Plaquemine about 15 miles from the Louisiana Capitol, said his commute can often take as long as an hour and a half because of the backlog of road upgrade needs.
“That’s unacceptable,” Brown said.
But the tax increase couldn’t overcome the anti-tax sentiment of the majority-GOP chamber, combined with opposition from the state Republican Party and organizations who sought to jettison the proposal.
“The House simply listened to the citizens of Louisiana and refused to raise taxes again,” John Kay, Louisiana state director of Americans for Prosperity, said in a statement.
The conservative organization, the main political advocacy group for billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, launched an aggressive grass-roots and advertising campaign lambasting the gas tax and urging lawmakers to reject it.
Louisiana’s Republican Party urged people to call and thank their lawmakers for “killing the gas tax.”
Motorists in Louisiana pay 38.4 cents in taxes per gallon of gasoline, including 20 cents in state taxes. The state rate hasn’t changed since 1990.
Carter originally sought a 17-cent tax hike to raise $500 million yearly, with the tax rising periodically, tied to an inflationary index. Average drivers would have paid an extra $120 per year, according to the state transportation department. Amid opposition, Carter then proposed a lower tax increase. But he still couldn’t win needed backing.
The tax hike bill was spearheaded by Baton Rouge-area lawmakers irritated by near-daily gridlock in the region and supported by business groups and Gov. John Bel Edwards. Louisiana is estimated to have a $13 billion backlog of transportation needs.
Before he shelved the measure, Carter chastised Republican Party leaders, saying he was “shocked and disappointed” the party’s governing body narrowly passed a resolution urging lawmakers to reject the tax bill. He criticized Americans for Prosperity as “an out-of-touch, out-of-state bankrolled group” that he said spread misinformation about the tax.
Rep. Kenny Havard, the Republican chairman of the House transportation committee, said outside influences have too much sway.
“I think we’re losing our way. We’re forgetting about the people who sent us here,” he said.
But several Republican lawmakers bristled at suggestions that by refusing to support the gas tax they were somehow betraying their constituents.
“We’re here to represent them. They don’t want the gas tax,” said Rep. Dodie Horton, a Republican from Haughton. “I stand with the people.”
Republican Rep. Alan Seabaugh, of Shreveport, said Louisiana has the money to pay for roadwork but isn’t allocating it properly. He said the transportation department has too many employees.
“I came down here to vote no. Don’t tell me I turned my back on the people who elected me,” he said, shouting at one point.