Transportation task force meets for first time, gets marching orders from governor

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ newly minted task force on transportation began its months-long work today, with the governor directing the group of legislators, appointed officials and experts to help the state “prioritize” infrastructure.

Edwards appointed the Task Force on Transportation Infrastructure Investment through an executive order in early June with hopes of overhauling the state’s roads, bridges and highways—a key campaign promise he made last fall.

The committee is scheduled to deliver recommendations before the end of the year, which is around the same time another task force will advise Edwards and the Legislature on how to stabilize the state budget. The recommendations will help Edwards guide his 2017 agenda.

“The Easter bunny isn’t going to deliver these transportation projects,” Edwards said. “We are going to have to explore revenue options to fund this investment … the resources are simply not there.”

The task force quickly introduced the gas tax as a means of funding for transportation projects. Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson pointed to the problems that have arisen from funding highways with one-time money.

Louisiana’s last major tax on gasoline, a 16-cent excise tax, began in 1984. In today’s dollars, Edwards and Wilson noted, that tax amounts to seven cents, since it was not indexed to inflation.

“Many people say more taxes are not the answer,” Wilson said. “But had we done that, our backlog would not be at $12.7 billion today.”

Louisiana has a 38.4-cent total gasoline tax, which includes a four-cent state tax levied in 1990 for the TIMED program—which invested in highways, roads, ports and airports—and an 18.4-cent federal tax in 1993.

Wilson pitched the gas tax as a centerpiece of tackling the multibillion-dollar backlog in infrastructure projects, noting that Louisiana ranks 40th in the country for state tax on gasoline.

“The gas tax is not the only option,” he said, “but it is a standard practice and it is a best practice of many states. That 16 cents is really not a lot.”

DOTD Deputy Secretary Eric Kalivoda highlighted the state’s aging bridges, most of which were built in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.

“These are not going to last forever,” he says. “People think the interstate is relatively new. It’s not. And we’re going to have to address it sooner or later.”

The task force will travel throughout the state to get input from local communities and address infrastructure and economic development needs. Wilson said he will invite Louisiana Economic Development Secretary Don Pierson to work with the group on economic issues.