La. legislator says 'party politics' are clouding debate over gas tax boost

Source: WAFB
Source: WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Next week, legislators will make a key vote on whether to raise the state's gas tax to pay for road repairs and new projects. However, at least one state lawmaker says party politics are being put before what is right for Louisiana.

"It saddens me," said Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner.

Stokes was one four Republicans who helped tip the scales in a GOP-controlled House committee last week, sending a 17-cent boost to the state's gas tax over its first hurdle at the state capitol.

The committee's vote caught many by surprise, as the same committee had killed a long list of other tax reform and revenue-raising measures.

The three other Republicans who voted for the measure are from the Baton Rouge area, including Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge; Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central; and Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales.

All four lawmakers are now the targets of a resolution by the Louisiana Republican State Central Committee. In it, the committee expressed "disappointment" in the four for the way they voted.

The same resolution also notes that the "defeat of the gasoline tax increase and all other tax increases" are priorities of the committee.

"I don't want to raise taxes on anyone. But I do see that if we don't do something regarding infrastructure, we're going to have a state of arrested development in the capitol region," Davis fired back.

Louisiana's gas tax has not changed since 1989. Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Department of Transportation and Development, says only three other states across the country have gas taxes older than the Bayou state's tax.

Wilson said the 17-cent tax boost will bring the gas tax up to par to match inflation. It would come on top of the 20 cents already on the books.

The GOP central committee is not the only right-wing group now leveraging its weight to kill the bill.

Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, is pushing anti-tax ads online. The group is also sending out mailers attacking at least one of the Republicans who voted for the boost.

"Louisianans don't need to have another tax increase," said John Kay, the state director of American's for Prosperity, who argues there have been enough tax increases over the past two years.

Kay cited concerns over how money from the gas tax has been spent in the past, with some being allocated for things other than roads. He recommended the state reallocate tax revenue already on the books to infrastructure, such as money from the sales tax.

AFP also has an event planned for next Tuesday - the day before the House vote - aimed at criticizing the bill.

Stokes says the group and the GOP are putting politics ahead of Louisiana's needs.

"If we don't make positive moves to improve infrastructure in this state, we'll fall further and further behind," Stokes said.

The bill will likely face an uphill battle in the House. A vote on the bill was already delayed once due to insufficient support.

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