BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A House panel advanced a bill Tuesday, May 16 increasing the state's gas tax by 17 cents per gallon.
Described by Robert Travis Scott with the Public Affairs Research Council as a "defining moment for the state," the committee voted 9-7 to send the measure to the House floor.
Some Republicans who have routinely voted against other tax increase measures, including Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, cast their vote in favor of the measure.
"If we don't have a mobile society, then I'm not sure how we have a prosperous society," said Davis, noting bad roads turn away business. The bill has the backing of big industry and ports.
Louisiana has a backlog of $13.1 billion in infrastructure projects that the state currently cannot fund, including road improvements. Added to that, the state also needs $15 billion to build some mega projects across the state – like bridges.
"There will be a ripple effect on our economy if we don't make an investment," said DOTD Sec. Shawn Wilson, asking the panel to vote in favor of the tax boost.
Currently, the state's gas tax is 20 cents per gallon. The bill, by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, would provide a boost of 17 cents, bringing the grand total to 37 cents per gallon.
Overall, the bill is expected to generate more than a half a billion dollars – money lawmakers hope would help get those projects going. The bill includes safe guards to ensure the money goes to the infrastructure improvements. The money could not be spent on worker salaries or pensions, according to Wilson.
The bill did face push back from small business groups, including the Louisiana branch of the National Federation of Independent Business. State director, Dawn Starns, says that more than 70 percent of her members opposed the legislation. Even so, she admits infrastructure is a problem.
"You have to be living in an alternate universe to think we don't need improvement on roads," said Starns.
The state's gas tax has not been raised in several decades. Supporters of the legislation say it will put it on track to match inflation. However, some legislators worry it's too much at one time.
"It's just hard to swallow the 17 cent increase," said Rep. Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles.
Members of the public, along with conservative groups like Americans For Prosperity, spoke out against the measure.
"I want that freakin' $120 for my grandchildren's college fund," said one woman, who calculated how much it could cost her next year.
The bill has a long road ahead. It now goes to the full House for consideration. If it's successful there, it still must go through the Senate as well.