Louisiana Governor Edwards’ administration trying to find more money for roads

Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press
4 January 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The incoming transportation secretary for Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards said Monday that the new administration will negotiate with lawmakers about the long-term possibility of raising taxes or fees to whittle down a $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge work.

Shawn Wilson said he doesn’t expect the governor-elect to recommend transportation tax and fee hikes in his agenda for an upcoming three-week special legislative session, scheduled to start around Valentine’s Day.

But Wilson told the Press Club of Baton Rouge the Edwards administration will want to discuss long-range ideas to get a new influx of cash dedicated to roadwork.

He said the administration won’t necessarily select a specific favored approach to raising the dollars, but will have a “robust conversation with legislators, with stakeholders, with communities about which one will give us the best value for the buck.”

For the short term, Wilson said he expects to find modest amounts of new dollars to chip away at the backlog by ending diversions of state gasoline tax money to pay for state police. It’s unclear what the incoming administration will do to fill that gap in the state police budget.

The new transportation secretary described some priority projects for the administration: congestion relief along Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge near the Mississippi River bridge; an upgraded interchange to improve access to the New Orleans airport; work on I-49 South in Lafayette; and railways between New Orleans and Baton Rouge and along I-20 in north Louisiana.

Wilson’s comments came as a 27-member transportation advisory group assembled by Edwards — which included contractors, transportation officials and business leaders — released its report.

The group said that while tax and fee hikes might not be “attractive,” they were likely the only way to tackle Louisiana’s transportation needs. The group said the state would need an additional $1 billion annually in construction spending, which could be a mix of federal and state dollars, to address the transportation project backlog.

Wilson doubted that figure could be reached, but said an additional $500 million to $600 million a year would provide for a much improved state transportation system.

Among the ideas floated by the advisory panel were a gas tax hike, a sales tax increase, higher car and truck registration fees, local gas taxes, an oil processing tax, a sales tax on auto parts and repairs and tolls.

“I think all of them come with pluses and minuses,” Wilson said, declining to endorse a specific proposal.



The transportation advisory group report is available at: http://bit.ly/1Pc4bPA

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