Louisiana has a backlog of road and bridge projects worth nearly $14 billion. The state pays for its infrastructure needs through a gasoline tax of 20 cents per gallon, a rate that hasn't changed since 1989.
Recent efforts to increase the gas tax statewide haven't gotten support in the Legislature. So, Rep. Stephen Carter (R-Baton Rouge) is trying a different approach.
"The present constitution prohibits a local government from levying a tax on motor fuel," he explained to the House Ways and Means committee Tuesday.
Carter wanted to give voters the opportunity to decide whether or not local governments could raise their own gasoline tax.
"Baton Rouge and the surrounding area, we have tremendous problems with our traffic," he said, "and so we're just trying to do whatever we can possibly do to try to solve the problem.”
Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads) says the state's road and bridge troubles aren't limited to the bigger cities. Farmers in the rural areas of his district are dealing with issues like bridge closures, "and when they can't cross them, they've got to travel a long way away just to get their crop out the field and so forth."
Thibaut argued giving local governments more flexibility over their gasoline tax could help get money to those rural areas.
But Shawn Wilson, the head of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, warns the more local the rate becomes, the less impact it would have.
"One penny of fuel tax is only $30 million dollars across the entire state of Louisiana. And if you divided that by parish, if you divided that by region, it gets smaller and smaller," he explained.
His first priority is to stabilize the state's gasoline tax. He says once that's done, he'll "be the first one to go carry a banner across the state to say now you do a local option to get you that last mile to finish a project."
The bill failed by a narrow vote in committee.