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Transportation group pressing candidates to support gas tax

by Minden Press-Herald

BATON ROUGE — With Louisiana’s highway and bridge needs topping $12 billion, a transportation advocacy group said Monday that the state’s next governor should back an increase in the gasoline tax to shrink the backlog, fill potholes and ease traffic.

The Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association recommended at least a 10-cent hike to the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon gas tax, with the $250 million to $280 million it is expected to raise annually earmarked to transportation projects.

“What it’s going to take is political leadership,” Ken Perret, association president and a retired assistant state transportation secretary, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.

A similar proposal failed to win support in the last legislative session, with term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican presidential candidate, threatening to veto anything he considered a tax hike.

None of the state’s four major gubernatorial candidates — Republican Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards and Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter — has committed to a gas tax increase.

But the four men have indicated they would back something similar to the transportation group’s second recommendation: to let local governments raise their own fuel taxes to pay for transportation work.

Perret said his organization, a nonprofit that includes former state transportation leaders and construction business representatives, has met with each of the candidates in the governor’s race in advance of the Oct. 24 election.

“I think they all recognize the need, but what they haven’t come up with yet is that concrete recommendation,” Perret said.

“You need to tell the public what you’re going to do to solve this problem, not just platitudes or slogans.”

Louisiana, like many states, is struggling with a gasoline tax that hasn’t kept pace with inflation. In a review released Monday, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office said 38 percent of the purchasing power of the state gas tax has been lost since 1993.

In addition, Jindal and lawmakers have diverted millions of transportation dollars to state police operations to make up for budget shortfalls. They recently agreed to lessen the practice.

Another factor negatively affecting transportation projects is that residents are paying fewer taxes as they buy more fuel-efficient cars. In addition, major highway and bridge projects that voters approved in 1989 have ballooned in cost, siphoning off a significant slice of the existing state gas tax revenue each year.

Purpera’s office said at least four other states have increased their gas tax rates since 2013. The audit said Louisiana’s gas tax is about 10 cents lower per gallon than the national average, but only about 1 cent lower than the average tax charged in other Southern states.

Perret said the lag in addressing Louisiana’s transportation needs threatens economic development projects, while the poor condition of roads creates extra car maintenance costs for residents.

“Good roads cost money, but we often overlook the fact that bad roads cost more,” he said.

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