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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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GOP lawmaker: Partisanship clouding Louisiana gas tax debate

GOP lawmaker: Partisanship clouding Louisiana gas tax debate

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A Louisiana Republican lawmaker scolded by her party's leaders for supporting a gas tax increase has shot back that the GOP effort to kill the bill is an example of short-sighted party politics that ignores the state's problems.

Rep. Julie Stokes, a Kenner Republican, said "partisanship and election posturing are clouding the real debate" over proper funding for Louisiana's infrastructure and transportation systems.

"It's short-sighted and denies the fact that our crumbling roads and bridges are costing taxpayers thousands of dollars a year and time away from their families. We have a totally preventable crisis on the horizon, and the time is now for real leadership and an end to the political maneuvering," Stokes, who is running for state treasurer, said in a statement.

Stokes' comments came after the state GOP governing body, the Republican State Central Committee, narrowly voted to oppose the 17-cent gas tax hike proposed by Republican Rep. Steve Carter of Baton Rouge. The committee also expressed "disappointment" in Stokes and three other GOP lawmakers who helped advance the bill, though not in Carter for proposing it.

The long-shot proposal, which would raise $500 million-plus a year for road and bridge work, was scheduled for House consideration Wednesday, but was delayed until next week as Carter tries to rally more votes.

Before he postponed the vote, Carter made a pitch to his colleagues to consider the tax increase, describing deteriorating roads and bridges that he said threaten public safety.

"Those needs will only grow larger the longer they go unaddressed," he said. "We have to try to solve this problem. I know it's a tough vote. I know it's tough times ... but, members, this is just too important."

The tax hike bill — spearheaded by Baton Rouge area lawmakers irritated by near-daily gridlock in the region — is supported by business groups and Gov. John Bel Edwards. But the two-thirds vote required for passage is a high hurdle to reach in the conservative anti-tax, majority-Republican House.

The Republican State Central Committee's resolution calling on lawmakers to reject the gas tax hike was co-sponsored by GOP Chairman Roger Villere.

"Louisiana taxpayers already pay a comparable tax, 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.

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.

Average drivers would pay an extra $120 per year, according to the state transportation department.

Besides Stokes, three Republican lawmakers from the Baton Rouge area voted for the bill in the House Ways and Means Committee: Reps. Paula Davis, Barry Ivey and Clay Schexnayder.

The Republican Party resolution encourages them and Stokes 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.

House Bill 632:

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