While House and Senate leaders contend a proposed increase to the state gasoline tax still has a long road ahead in the ongoing regular session, supporters aren’t letting up on their push to generate more money for Louisiana’s overwhelming transportation needs.
Still, it’s not the kind of political assessment supporters want to hear as the session nears its midway point, with adjournment scheduled for June 8.
Throwing the issue for a new curve this week was President Donald Trump, who told Bloomberg News that he would “certainly consider” supporting a hike in the federal gas tax if the revenue were directed to infrastructure spending.
The federal retail gasoline tax is already 18.4 cents and on the state level the levy is 20 cents. Neither has been increased since the early 1990s.
Republican consultant Roy Fletcher of Baton Rouge said Trump’s statement, which stopped short of an endorsement or an announcement of any real plan, may introduce a new variable into the debate in the Louisiana Legislature.
While some conservatives might think Trump’s words of encouragement offer them some political cover to increase a tax that’s still seeking to gain footing at the Capitol, Fletcher said the possibility of gasoline being double-taxed is something to consider as well.
“If the feds possibly increase their rate — and we don't know if that’s even the case — does someone want to do something here before that happens?” Fletcher asked.
Or, he added, does it become an issue that’s worth putting on hold, at least temporarily?
Prior to Trump’s statement, and even as he was giving it to Bloomberg News on Monday, the ongoing shotgun approach to increasing the state’s gas tax was looking tougher with each passing day.
Attention turned weeks ago to getting at least one of the related bills introduced out of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and onto the House floor, but little progress has been made.
Many committee members believe that an increase upwards of 17 cents, as proposed in one measure, will be a challenging sell.
As such, other options are starting to appear on the table, like the possibility of a different funding source, like a small portion of the state sales tax. But those options appear to be taking a back seat to the public discussion over the gasoline tax.
There have likewise been very informal discussions — talks that core supporters aren’t necessarily a part of — about fallback positions, such as making sure, at the very least, certain legislative elements of the various proposals out there stay intact, like scaling back administrative costs; prioritizing projects; and indexing current and future revenue.
That said, none of the teams behind the push for a greater gas tax in Louisiana are throwing in the towel.
There are still rays of hope to be found on the issue, with supporters promising more outreach and education — a daunting task with just half of the session remaining.
There are also some hardcore politics at play. Some Republicans, with an eye to 2019, don’t want to give Gov. John Bel Edwards the benefit of having orange barrels all over the state’s highways when he runs for re-election.