- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Replace the state gasoline tax with a sales tax on all fuels. Direct more money in the state construction budget to road work. Steer dollars to highways that otherwise pour into Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund.

Those are among the ideas on a list approved Monday by a legislative task force trying to drum up new cash for highway repairs and improvements in a state that has a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge work.

But rather than offer specific recommendations, the Transportation Funding Task Force is forwarding all the ideas it heard, without prioritizing proposals it submits to lawmakers. Instead, the panel will let them sift through concepts to see which generate the most interest. Its report was due to lawmakers this week.

Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, task force chair, said she hopes lawmakers will consider some ideas in the two-month regular legislative session that begins in April.

“What this funding task force has done, it has started the discussion,” she said.

But the term-limited St. Germain, chair of the House transportation committee, knows much of the work to chip away at the hefty backlog will fall to a new governor and lawmakers who will be elected this fall.

“The next administration has a whole lot to worry about, and this is a big part of it,” she said.

It’s unclear if the eight-member task force found ideas that could gain passage this year. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes tax hikes, and lawmakers may be reticent to consider fee increases as they face voters in re-election campaigns this fall.

Meanwhile, the state’s budget shortfall tops $1.4 billion, making it unlikely lawmakers will consider shifting existing dollars to transportation needs while they’re struggling to continue ongoing services.

Louisiana, like many states, is struggling with a stagnant gasoline tax that hasn’t kept pace with construction inflation. On top of that, Jindal and lawmakers have steered millions in transportation dollars to instead pay for state police operations each year.

The anti-tax environment left the transportation task force - which included lawmakers, state officials and construction and engineering representatives - looking for creative financing proposals.

In the draft report approved Monday, ideas include swapping the state’s 16 cent-per-gallon gas tax for an 8 percent sales tax on a broader array of fuel sales and requiring that 60 percent of the state’s construction budget be spent on transportation.

Partnering with the private sector on infrastructure projects was suggested, which could involve a private company building a road project in exchange for charging user fees or tolls.

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, recommended including a proposal that the state require owners of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas to pay a fuel tax equivalent to the state’s gasoline tax. Adley said that would ensure “a fair tax across the board” for drivers.

The task force plans to discuss other possible funding ideas before it wraps up in March.

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