(The Center Square) – The Louisiana House has voted to stop the state highway department from using gasoline taxes to fund salaries and benefits.
The change is meant to free up money for road and bridge construction in the absence of a higher gasoline tax. Rep. Mark Wright, the Covington Republican who authored House Bill 40, said his bill would “get us spending the equivalent of doubling a gas tax.”
The amount of gas tax money the Department of Transportation and Development could use to pay its employees would be reduced over seven years until reaching zero. DOTD would be forced to rely on general fund dollars to fund operations, which could lead to less money for other priorities.
Wright said using general fund dollars for DOTD salaries would make the House Appropriations Committee better able to have oversight over the department’s budget. HB 40 passed the House on Tuesday with a 61-31 vote.
House Bill 511 by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, has similar goals and is awaiting a Senate committee hearing.
The House voted 57-33 to allow either chamber of the Louisiana Legislature to alter a governor’s emergency order, such as the orders Gov. John Bel Edwards used to impose COVID-19 mitigation measures. Under current law, either body can scrap an entire emergency order but can’t pick and choose which measures to keep or reject; that law has been found unconstitutional by a district judge.
“I think the law is constitutional,” said Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Abita Springs, who authored House Bill 149.
Frieman amended his bill so it wouldn’t go into effect until after Edwards leaves office. He said he wanted to make clear that his proposal was not partisan or targeted at a particular governor.
Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, got two chances with House Bill 691, which seeks to raise the cost of hunting and fishing licenses to provide funding for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said he would prefer that people who use the resources his department provides pay the department’s cost as much as possible, as opposed to general taxpayers.
The first vote was 68-28, two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to raise taxes or fees. After making several changes, including spreading out cost increases over three years instead of two, eliminating a proposed increase for a lifetime license and exempting commercial shrimpers, the bill advanced, 79-20.
David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.