Gatti: Louisiana needs to take advantage of federal highway dollars

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Gerald Holland

Special to the Minden Press-Herald

District 36 State Senator Ryan Gatti, a Republican from Bossier, made a pitch to Springhill’s Rotary Club for Louisiana to get ready to get in on the $1 trillion highway spending program that President Trump wants Congress to pass. 

Gatti handed his conclusions to the Rotarians in print, saying that other states are getting ready to participate in the hoped-for highway-building bonanza.

They are “developing streams of revenue” to meet expected matching-funds requirements if the legislation is passed. 

Gatti  said increased federal highway spending will most likely come from increasing federal debt, for which we are all responsible, but Louisiana being  “left out is indefensible.”

“We have no plan to make a meaningful leverage of funds for Trump’s infrastructure idea,” Gatti said.

He floated a possibility of getting highway-match funds from higher taxes on directionally-drilled oil and gas wells.

Gatti reminded the members of the Rotary that Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed, and the legislature passed, a one percent temporary sales tax three years ago to close a deficit gap.

He described legislative arguments about renewing all or part of the temporary sales tax last year as “tribalism.”  

“It was a no-holds-barred fight over fractions of pennies,” he said.

In the end, less than one-half percent of the sales tax increase was renewed. According to Gatti,  this was only enough to balance the state government budget because of “tribalism” between legislators who wanted to keep all of the tax increase and those who wanted to keep none of it after July, 2018.

Gatti’s presentation indicated his preference for retaining the full one percent sales tax increase. He said half of this annual increase ($510 million) would go the balancing the state government’s budget and half would be set aside to match federal funding from Trump’s possible highway building plans. He acknowledged the difficulty of this option because Louisiana citizens have learned to widely distrust Louisiana government’s promises for highway improvements and other state responsibilities.

He contended that “corporate welfare” costs Louisiana’s local governments $1.7 billion annually. 

Gatti said corporate welfare is when government makes  tax-reduction deals with business and industry to get them to locate or expand in Louisiana and hire Louisiana workers. He suggested that Louisiana is more generous than  other states, but industry avoids Louisiana anyway.

A question was posed as to why industrial developers would tend to see Louisiana so unfavorably if Louisiana offers more generous incentives than other states. An audience member responded that maybe it’s the “complexity” of Louisiana’s system. 

The senator took a Rotarian’s question about reports of a $400 million state revenue boost because of the side-effects of the federal tax cut signed by  Pres. Trump. He answered that the amount was closer to $370 million and was already spent in the state’s budget so it wouldn’t be available for highway spending. 

He spoke about the prospects for legislation in the regular session of 2019, which begins in April.  On the tax from, he stated that he doesn’t know where “they’re going to be on taxes.”

Gatti was born and raised in Shreveport, working in his family’s wrecking yard business.  He and his wife and children now live in Bossier Parish where his law practice is based.

They are active every year with other Christians in humanitarian assistance to distressed residents of Haiti.

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