- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Lawmakers in the Louisiana House refused a 1-cent sales-tax hike Thursday that would help pay for a $12 billion backlog of needed improvements to the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

Shortly after the proposal was shot down, the measure’s sponsor decided not to take up a separate road construction proposal that would raise the state gasoline tax by 10 cents.

But just because odds are against the bills doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t see the proposals again, said Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Pierre Part, who plans to continue pushing at least one of her measures.

Lawmakers on Thursday voted 52-42 for her sales-tax proposal - far short of the 70 votes it required to pass - but St. Germain said she wants to “keep the conversation going” and plans to schedule the bill for another vote next week.

Passage is likely a long-shot with only two weeks remaining in the legislative session and tax hikes requiring a hefty two-thirds vote for passage. If St. Germain can get either bill through the House, she’d still need to win support from the Senate.

But St. Germain said the state has neglected its transportation needs for too long: “We’ve kicked the can down the road so long that we’re still digging it out of a pothole.”

Bill supporters say neighboring Texas has moved forward on many large-scale construction plans, pouring billions into road improvements. That makes it harder for Louisiana to compete for economic development projects, they say.

“This helps the quality of everybody’s life,” said St. Germain, who chairs the House Transportation Committee. “When you’re 10 minutes away, it shouldn’t take you 45 minutes to get there.”

The proposals would have raised an estimated $1 billion in the next budget year and $5.7 billion over five years, according to financial analyses of the bills.

St. Germain, who is term-limited, has long sought a way to pay for infrastructure improvements. But even though both bills made it to the House floor, final passage was seen as difficult in a Legislature that has been reticent to raise new taxes. Additionally, Gov. Bobby Jindal doesn’t support a tax increase without a corresponding cut somewhere else in the same amount.

With local sales tax rates included, Louisiana already has one of the highest combined average sales tax rates in the nation. St. Germain’s bill would have bumped it to the highest, according to data from the Tax Foundation.

The proposal would earmark much of the sales tax money to a list of specific highway and bridge projects considered major economic development drivers in regions around the state. A slice of the money also would be placed in an infrastructure bank for local road projects.

The gas tax increase would be the first such increase since 1984. It would bump up Louisiana’s gasoline tax to 30 cents per gallon from 20 cents per gallon.

Both tax hikes would run for 10 years.

___

Online:

House Bills 777 and 778 can be found at www.legis.la.gov

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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