A proposal that would shift an 0.45-cent sales tax to road projects gained approval in the Senate Finance Committee as the final vote looms in the waning hours of the 2021 legislative session.
House Bill 514 by state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, would keep the sales tax in place beyond its expiration in 2025.
The project would fund work for roads and construction of new bridges, including another Mississippi River bridge south of Baton Rouge.
Lawmakers approved the sales tax in 2018 to pull the state out of a gaping budget hole, a move that Gov. John Bel Edwards pushed as a temporary sales tax.
The proposal has drawn criticism from lawmakers who believe it should remain temporary.
Parish government officials, including Pointe Coupee Parish President Major Thibaut, say they believe the plan could work.
“I think it’s a great proposal,” he said. “It’s not a new tax, and people are used to paying the current tax amount,” he said.
“Everyone in our country knows our roads are deplorable, and that the chances of a new gasoline tax are just not going to happen.”
The plan would work best if it focused only on new construction, Thibaut said.
“It would work if it involved taking less than a half-cent and putting it toward roads and bridges and making it to where it can only be used on construction,” he said.
“In other words, it can’t go to DOTD to hire a bunch of employees,” Thibault said.
“It’s a bold proposal, but I’m not sure it’s going to pass,” the parish president said.
Plans for a new Mississippi River bridge from Baton Rouge to either West Baton Rouge Parish or Iberville Parish would be in the plan with the sales tax revenue, Ward said.
Although it would be a state project, it must go through the same preliminary work as a federally funded road.