Among the unfortunate legacies of the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal was the continual raiding of the state’s highway funds to pay for the operating costs of State Police.
To his credit, Gov. John Bel Edwards has backed efforts in the Legislature to end the practice. The reality is that Jindal’s budgets did not add up, and dedicated transportation funds had to be raided to fill one of the holes.
Today, the mistrust over whether “dedicated funds” are truly dedicated provided a ready excuse for lawmakers to reject a proposed gas tax that would have helped fix the state’s roads and bridges.
Despite support from major business organizations, state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, pulled his gasoline tax increase from the House calendar. Again and again, the issue of former raids on the trust fund was brought up.
True enough, but the complaints were a political smokescreen for lawmakers unwilling to pay the bills — just as many of them failed to do when they backed Jindal’s smoke-and-mirrors budgets.
Legislators left the State Capitol with the same backlog of road and bridge repairs that should have been addressed with real money — an increase in the gasoline tax for the first time in 28 years.
Honest budgeting isn’t enough when you are billions behind in repair of the existing road network — not just in the big-ticket capital projects needed for relief of traffic in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and other major centers.
The Louisiana chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers reported before the session that the state’s crumbling infrastructure needed attention. But ASCE reported the same thing in 2012, and lawmakers refused to address tax changes needed.
Kam Movassaghi, of ASCE, a former head of the state Department of Transportation and Development, said more funding is needed: “We are piecemealing it. There is no (funding) plan to address the state’s infrastructure needs.”
Good faith arguments can be made about what projects should be built, but a flat refusal to fund the basics of transportation is a dreadful statement by the Legislature.
The 2017 Legislature was a fiscal session, when tax increases are allowed to be considered. The next two years of the Legislature will be a general session in 2018, where taxes cannot be considered outside of a special session, and an election year session where legislators will be reluctant to take tough decisions in the spring of 2019, just before voters go to the polls.
Unless some political miracle intervenes, it will be 30 years of Louisiana rocking along with the same level of gasoline tax. The roads, bridges and other structures that earned a D-plus in the ASCE study are only going to get worse with time.
We hope voters will tell their legislators that today’s traffic mess requires solutions, with real money. No more excuses.
The death of the push to raise Louisiana’s gasoline tax not only ended the issue for 2017.