BATON ROUGE- The lack of funding for road work in Louisiana is causing more than just frustration on the highway. Business groups said Thursday it's hurting the Baton Rouge area economy.
"We have a very unique example recently where the LA 1 Bridge across the river was posted [closed to transport trucks]. Now you have a number of businesses that can't get their freight across the bridge," said Scott Kirkpatrick. He's the executive director of CRISIS, a business and government group pushing for increased transportation funding in the Capital region.
Louisiana has a $13 billion backlog for road construction. A task force created by Governor John Bel Edwards recommends spending $700 million a year to catch up. Business groups fear without an increased gas tax, the state won't have the money to secure federal funds for the projects. That includes the $1 trillion President Donald Trump has pledged for infrastructure spending.
"The state hardly has enough money to match the federal share," said Kirkpatrick. "At this point we're doing everything we can to maintain what we have let alone build anything new."
Proposals are still coming together but State Representative Kenneth Havard (R-Jackson) said there could be attempts to raise the gas tax by as much as 20 cents per gallon. "I think it's truly needed if you look at the [governor's] task force and all the studies that have been done," he said.
Havard once opposed raising the gas tax because it put all the burden "on the backs of the people." He said Thursday his views had changed since becoming chairman of the House transportation committee last year. However, he still thinks business groups, especially oil refineries, should share in the tax burden.
"All I hear is we need to operate like a business," said Havard. "Well you can't give away $2.72 for every dollar you take in because you will go broke. And that's where the state is right now."
Here, Havard refers to corporate income and franchise taxes which in recent years have paid out more in incentives and tax credits than have been collected in revenue. Business groups said Havard is misrepresenting the facts because those businesses also pay property and sales taxes to the state and local governments.
"What I think is significant about the gas tax is it's a user fee," said Kirkpatrick. "Whether you're a business or an individual, the road can't tell the difference. It should be the people who use the road that should pay the tax."
CORRECTION: In the video story it was reported Havard supported the gas tax. However, before the interview Havard had said he had yet to make a decision on the issue. But when he was asked about the gas tax during the recorded interview, Havard said, "the gas tax is something I think is truly needed if you look at the task force and all the studies that have been done. I am a little concerned that they [lawmakers] may settle for something less than the amount that is needed to address the backlog." After the story aired, Havard told News 2 he supported funding infrastructure, but not necessarily a gas tax.