Louisiana lawmaker defends proposed gas tax hike

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BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — The lawmaker behind Louisiana’s latest proposed gas tax hike remains unfazed by Gov. John Bel Edwards’ lack of support.

State Rep. Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro) argues roads and bridges need the revenue. The state faces a $15 billion infrastructure maintenance backlog — and a $13 billion wish list for new projects.

“Our roads and bridges are crumbling beneath us as we drive across them,” McFarland told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday. “You can’t continue to go down that path.”

McFarland’s bill, if passed, would prompt Louisiana’s the first gas tax hike in more than 30 years. It would add 22 cents to the state’s 20-cent rate by 2033 — starting with an immediate 10-cent jump. About 60% would address existing infrastructure, while 40% would go toward new capacity.

This measure marks McFarland’s first time supporting a higher gas tax. He maintains his legislation differs from the ones that failed in 2017 and 2019, as it would subject the state’s Department of Transportation and Development to more independent audits and spending caps.

“We’ve added transparency, and we’ve added accountability,” he said. “We’re going to get the 70 votes needed to pass this legislation.”

Passage in the state House of Representatives would send the bill to the state Senate, where it would need 26 votes before hitting Edwards’ desk.

But Edwards, a Democrat who has backed previous fuel tax proposals, does not plan to endorse this latest measure. He cites hardships triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t think it would be possible to get a two-thirds vote, in light of the economy and what has happened because of COVID,” Edwards said on his monthly call-in radio show last month.

In response, McFarland suggested that legislative leaders — House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senate President Page Cortez, both Republicans — have motivated him.

“They have encouraged me to go out and work on this reform measure,” he said.

Cortez, however, has questioned whether a gas tax can pass in the Legislature’s 2021 session, which starts April 12.

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