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Home » Louisiana officials look for alternate solutions for transportation project funding – American Press
Louisiana officials are looking at alternative solutions for funding transportation projects
Published 4:09 p.m. Thursday 26 January 2023
Governor John Bel Edwards, Louisiana Secretary of Transportation and Development Shawn D. Wilson and Sulfur Mayor Mike Danahay celebrate the near completion of the Interstate 10 expansion project during an event Friday at the Holiday Inn. (Rick Hickman / American Press Archives)
Louisiana Secretary of Transportation and Development Shawn Wilson and State Assemblyman Mark Wright, R-Covington — who is chairman of the House of Transportation, Highways and Public Works committee — chimed in the conversation about the stagnation of Louisiana’s gas tax recent webinar from the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.
Questions about motor vehicle taxes arose last September with the release of the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s audit report, “Sufficiency of the Transportation Trust Fund to Meet the State’s Transportation Needs.”
The economic study was conducted to evaluate whether the Transportation Trust Fund would be sufficient to meet Louisiana’s transportation needs. TFF is the primary pool of money that funds the state’s transportation needs.
This review follows the DOTD’s 2019 State Highway and Bridge Needs Report, which found that Louisiana had $14.87 billion in unmet transportation infrastructure needs.
This report found that funding is insufficient. The funding gap lies in government gas taxes.
“We determined that TTF funding was insufficient because fuel taxes, the TTF’s largest source of revenue, have not increased since 1990 and are not inflation-indexed,” said legislative auditor Michael J. “Mike” Waguespack in the 2022 release Report .
The state tax on gasoline, diesel and specialty fuels is now 20 cents per gallon. These rates are a fixed amount under state law and do not fluctuate with inflation. At the current rate, the motor fuel tax brings in about $600 million a year; $627,069 million in 2022, $610,221 million in 2021, $596,273 million in 2020 and $639,922 million in 2019, according to the 2022 audit report.
If the ebb and flow gas tax were indexed to inflation, the tax rate would have risen to 49 cents in 2021, resulting in a projected increase from $600 million to $1.2 billion.
The report also pointed out that electric and hybrid vehicles will have a major impact on the money generated by the gas tax. According to Waguespack, increased fuel efficiency and external electric charging will result in $563.3 million in less fuel tax revenue from 2023 to 2032.
Wright said he believes no major changes will be made this term, but talks about long-term funding would gain prominence in the next term. “I don’t think there’s a serious attempt to do anything about it this year,” he said. “I think between IIJA and the introduction of sales tax a few years ago, we received a significant amount of money to bridge into the next term. I think as we move into the next term we will seriously consider how we can do this sustainably over the long term.”
Louisiana has accumulated a funding boost under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), in addition to the $280-$300 million generated by the vehicle sales tax.
The process of raising these funds was in an effort to create stable, consistent funding. “The state of Louisiana, through the Louisiana Legislature and the Governor, found a way to take vehicle sales tax dollars and dedicate them to infrastructure,” Wilson said. “When we talked about new revenue in 2017, what mattered to us was not so much the actual amount as consistency so we could program appropriately and allocate those dollars to the right places. The idea that we’re going to see something like $280 million to $300 million consistently… on top of the IIJA, formula increases and discretionary powers, that puts us in a phenomenal position to keep improving.”
He acknowledged that while this is a beneficial amount of funding, it’s important to recognize that it doesn’t take into account inflation, supply chain issues or staffing issues. “So it’s going to go a long way, but I don’t think it’s going as far as anyone expected or hoped it would go.”
For Wright, raising gas taxes is not a viable option. “I am skeptical about an increase in the gas tax. I could see it being increased a little bit … but to bring it to a level where you would have to fund sustainably, I don’t see an appetite from the public or the legislature.” He said he would like lawmakers to make the allocation of sales tax funds for infrastructure projects.
Wilson has previously shown interest in raising the gas tax but acknowledges it is a “dying tax base”.
“We’re in such a volatile time right now in terms of the evolving source of energy for vehicles or how we drive them… I don’t think the gas tax is sustainable… considering we’re looking at hydrogen, electric or hybrids, ” he said.
In the years to come, Wilson said he was interested in researching a toll road. This technology would record the “time and space you spend on our roads”.
“You can quantify that in a way that’s comparable to what you do for gas taxes.” Coalitions in Oregon, the Midwest and the Northern Corridor have conducted research into the efficiency of such a system, according to Wilson.
The road toll would involve consumers installing devices in their cars that would track their journey. This information would then be put into a formula that calculates the cost. He believes this system would be efficient and financially sustainable since costs are based on movement rather than fuel type.
With funding now ramping up over the next several years – the IIJA funding will last five years – Wilson believes this is the best time to explore alternatives to infrastructure funding for the ever-evolving future.