Business of Politics

La. GOP calls for defeat of gas tax hike

by Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press

Louisiana's Republican Party leaders are urging state lawmakers to reject a gas tax hike ahead of Wednesday's scheduled vote on the measure and have chastised GOP legislators who voted for the proposal.

The party's governing body, the Republican State Central Committee, narrowly supported a resolution opposing the 17-cent per gallon tax hike at its recent meeting. The resolution was co-sponsored by GOP Chairman Roger Villere.

The resolution — provided to The Associated Press by party executive director Bo Staples — calls defeat of the gas tax a priority and describes "disappointment" in the four Republican lawmakers who helped the proposal advance to the full House.

"Louisiana taxpayers already pay a comparable gas tax to neighboring states, while being burdened with higher income and sales taxes, and despite this fact, these other states have sufficient funds for their roads while we do not," the resolution says.

Staples said the central committee passed the resolution in a 46-44 vote Saturday.

House debate on the gas tax bill by Republican Rep. Steve Carter, of Baton Rouge, is scheduled Wednesday in the majority-GOP chamber.

It's unclear how the Republican Party's opposition will influence the vote on a tax hike already considered a long-shot for passage. The bill needs two-thirds support from the House, which has shown resistance to tax bills, to advance to the Senate.

The gas tax boost is pushed by chambers of commerce and some business leaders, particularly in the Baton Rouge and Acadiana regions that struggle with gridlock. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards supports the effort to pour more than $500 million in new cash annually into road and bridge repairs and upgrades.

Louisiana is estimated to have a $13 billion backlog of transportation needs. That doesn't count the $15 billion wish list of new construction projects.

Motorists in Louisiana currently pay 38.4 cents in taxes per gallon of gasoline, including 20 cents in state taxes. The state rate hasn't changed since 1990, even as construction costs boomed.

Under Carter's bill, the tax would grow by 17 cents on July 1. The tax then would rise periodically, tied to an inflationary index. The dollars would be earmarked for transportation projects, and could not be spent on salaries or administrative costs.

Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said the average driver would pay an extra $120 per year on the tax hike.

"Government is not a free service. It costs," he told senators who brought up the tax debate during a Sunday budget hearing.

Three Republican lawmakers from the Baton Rouge area, a region snarled in daily traffic jams, voted for the bill in the Ways and Means Committee: Reps. Paula Davis, Barry Ivey and Clay Schexnayder. A fourth GOP lawmaker, Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner, also supported it.

The Republican Party resolution encourages them to change their mind on the gas tax — and calls on lawmakers to resist any other proposed tax increases in the remaining weeks of the legislative session that must end June 8.

Opponents of the tax hike say people are tired of repeated tax increases from lawmakers. They say working families are struggling in a state with one of the nation's highest unemployment rates and can't afford new charges at the gas pump.