BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - With raising the gas tax up for debate at the capitol this spring, one group has already taken an advertisement out against the idea.
The Louisiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a nationally backed conservative group, posted the ad online that claims politicians in the Bayou State are not spending tax dollars already on the books wisely.
"They've diverted most of our gas taxes to government salaries and other carve-outs. Only 11 percent goes to transportation projects," the announcer on the ad says. "Louisiana doesn't need higher gas taxes to fix our roads and bridges."
However, Louisiana's transportation chief says the claim in the ad is simply not true. "I think it continues to erode public confidence with misinformation," said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
Wilson says when federal match money is included, around 70 percent of DOTD's $1.7 billion budget is used for new construction and repairs. Only about 4.4 percent is devoted to administrative costs. The ad comes as state lawmakers prepare to return to the capitol for the 2017 session. They will likely debate whether to raise the state's gas tax to help fund the backlog of infrastructure projects.
Currently, the overall gas tax is 38.4 cents for every gallon – 20 cents of that is state tax. Ideas are currently being floated to raise the state portion of the tax by an additional 15 to 20 cents. Louisiana's gas tax has not changed in decades.
Wilson is among those pushing for an increase, saying problems with the state's infrastructure will continue if nothing is done. "We will have people continue to sit in congestion, we will have continued erosion of our pavement condition, and we will continue to not build the projects that we need," Wilson said. "In reality, if you spend nothing, you get nothing."
The state director of the Louisiana chapter for Americans for Prosperity, John Kay, says the ad will be running online throughout the session. He argues that after last year's tax hikes, Louisianans cannot handle another tax increase. He would rather see other state dollars diverted to pay for roads, including possibly money generated by the sales tax.
"We bring in a sufficient amount of money in the state. I think our spending priorities are a bit out of line," Kay said.
However, with the budget already strapped and state agencies undergoing numerous cuts in recent years, Wilson says that's just not possible. "If that means closing hospitals and closing universities, we will have a great road to a building that is not functional or services that are not available," Wilson said.
The legislative session begins Monday, April 10.