State Senator Noble Ellington and State Representative Roy Quezaire, chairmen of the Senate and House Transportation, Highways, & Public Works committees respectively, outlined current funding and the problems Louisiana faces with insufficient money for road construction at this week's meeting of the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
Joining them was Jennifer Marusak, Communications Director for Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, who presented an overview of her group's legislative package to address future, additional funding to improve highways and bridges across the state. She said their proposal would shift current dollars without imposing additional taxes or fees.
To accomplish this goal, they propose redirecting about $600 million in state money as follows:
* $256 million annually by shifting sales taxes collected on the sale of vehicles and vehicle parts (after being split with the parishes) from the General Fund to the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF);
* $200 million annually by shifting the Windfall Highway Infrastructure and Protection Fund from the General Fund to the TTF and coastal restoration;
* $85 million annually by requiring benefit payments for former and current DOTD employees be taken from the General Fund and not the TTF;
* $40 million annually by depositing truck registration fees in the TTF rather than the state General Fund;
* $40 million annually by paying State Police "Traffic Control" from the state General Fund instead of the TTF,
* $40 million annually by shifting truck registration fees to the TTF.
Marusak said the state currently faces a $14 billion backlog in road and construction needs. The primary source of funding, the TTF, relies solely on a 16-cent gas tax approved in 1984 that was never adjusted for inflation. In today's money, that 16 cents amounts to eight cents, thus the biggest reason for the problem.
According to the group, the state needs to spend $180 to $200 million annually to keep up with needed road repairs and construction. The state spent $17 million in fiscal year '05-'06, will spend $30 million in this fiscal year, and has only $9 million available in fiscal year '07-'08.
Without the proposed shift in funds, Marusak said the state will have to consider additional fees and/or taxes to forego the potential loss of federal matching funds, which could occur as early as 2009. Without federal funds, the state will continue to fall farther and farther behind in improving and maintaining its roads and bridges, something it cannot afford to do. At this time, almost half of the state's bridges are over 40 years old, road disrepair contributes to the traffic fatality rate which is 41% higher than the national average, and vehicular traffic is predicted to double in the next 25 years, not to mention the negative impact this has on economic development and Louisiana's recovery.
She said that according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), the $450 million in surplus money the governor has said she will propose as a one-time appropriation for road construction, although helpful, will provide less than three percent of the $14 billion needed to address the backlog of unmet construction needs.
How does Louisiana compare to other states in administrative spending, taxes and fees? Louisiana has the twelfth-lowest gas tax in the nation, the fourth-lowest auto registration fee, and the sixth-lowest truck registration fee. In cost of operations vs. capital expenditures, DOTD is the fourth-lowest in the country.
To promote their legislative agenda, the association has launched "Driving Louisiana Forward," a statewide public awareness campaign to educate the state's citizens and the legislature about the funding crisis and to point out the connection between a solid infrastructure, job creation, and economic development. They also hope to generate public support and encourage citizens to urge their state legislators to support their legislative proposals.
Ellington and Quezaire said they support the association's proposals and added that these changes can be made statutorily, with no constitutional amendments needed.
The Louisiana Good Roads & Transportation Association is an organization of businesses and interested parties across the state who are committed to improving Louisiana's highway infrastructure.