ay for additional funding to cover repair and construction of highways across Louisiana, but the state needs to look beyond fund diversion for future projects, state Rep. Edmond Jordan said.
The progress on road issues ranked among the biggest accomplishments in the 2021 Legislative Session, according to the Brusly Democrat who represents District 29.
“The biggest thing to come out of this session was being able to bring to fruition the ability to fund for a bridge here, and no doubt I think it’s here,” he said.
The $353 million – which will come into place gradually from general fund over the next few years – will help jumpstart projects, but state lawmakers need to look beyond diversion of funds.
The use of a gas tax would seem logical, but forthcoming changes could put the brakes on that option.
“A use tax, however that would look, would be the best and then, maybe a gas tax,” Jordan said. “
The issue with a as tax, looking into the future and more vehicles go the route of electric vehicles, I’m not sure we’re not going to see some diminishing returns on a gas tax, and if you don’t tie a gas tax to the index, you’ll find the same situation we’re in now 10 or 15 years from now, where the gas tax won’t be as valuable as it was in 2021. Plus, with the increase use of electric vehicles, we don’t have any idea where that will go.”
The absence of a gas tax, however, gives a free ride to the biggest group of drivers the state should target, Jordan said.
“Without the gas tax or some form of use tax, you’re not capturing out of state drivers, and that’s the majority of the people who are coming though Louisiana, especially truckers going from Point A to Point B through Louisiana,” he said. “So, if you’re not taxing them on gas or some other type of use, they’re using the roads without necessarily paying their fair share.”
The lack of action on an increase in the gasoline tax has played a part in the inability to fix and build roads, Jordan said.
Louisiana’s fuel tax has remained at 38.4 cents per gallon since 1987, but the rate of inflation has diminished its value. It ranks seventh lowest gasoline tax in the nation.
Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi have raised their taxes during the last two years.
“We’re probably the state with the longest period or second longest period of time between raising our gas tax, so we probably should have raised it earlier,” Jordan said. “I’m not going to say what we did is too little, too late, but I think this is a step in the right direction, and a move forward. It’s certainly a victory ... if we can get a bridge out of this, you want to alleviate the traffic.”
Jordan said he remains confident that the measure lawmakers passed in the final days of the session will, to some degree, help ease the worklist across the state.
“If it wasn’t significant and no value and benefit, I wouldn’t have voted for it,” he said. “But I do think there’s a real value and benefit in what we’re getting back on our return, so if we can alleviate traffic, depending on what the federal government does with the Biden infrastructure plan, and if he makes a big push on infrastructure, we may have multiple modes of moving people around.”
He believes a tie in the CATS bus system and the possibility of a railway from Baton Rouge to New Orleans could also help transportation issues throughout the area.
But residents will want to see a move toward action rather than more studies, Jordan said.
“We’ll see what the future brings, but with the La. 1/La. 415 connector, the expansion of I-110, we’ll see some movement, but I think people are tired of studies,” he said. “They’re just ready to see shovels in the ground and dirt moving, and projects coming aboard.”
Jordan also applauded the teacher pay increases, but he said lawmakers need to continue the efforts to bring state K-12 educators in line with the southern regional average.
“I’m happy they got the $800 raise, but as southern states continue to give raises to their teachers, we need to continue to find ways to get to the national average,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in the public school system, my family has been involved in the public school system, and I think we need a strong public school system to move our state forward.’
Jordan also believes Louisiana needs to concentrate on ways to keep young people in the state once they finish high school in college.
“If you look at other states, particularly our neighbor to the West, being Texas, you’ll see all the growth and job opportunities in cities like Dallas, Austin and Houston, and that’s because they’re doing a lot of things right,” he said. “It’s even more important now that people ay telecommute as they did during the pandemic, and we now see how people can work out of state, from home, wherever that may be.
“We have a lot to offer in Louisiana in terms of our food, our culture and our people – but we need the jobs to keep people here,” Jordan said.