The Senate Finance Committee declined to approve legislation this week that would dedicate a portion of a temporary state sales tax to the construction of roads and bridges in local infrastructure districts.
State Sen. Stewart Cathey’s Senate Bill 30 proposed an annual appropriation of $250 million in revenues from a temporary 0.45-percent state sales tax to the Transportation Trust Fund beginning in 2022.
The temporary 0.45-percent sales tax expires in 2025.
“We all recognize the importance of spending on infrastructure,” said Cathey, R-Sterlington. “This allows us to allocate tax dollars into the Transportation Trust Fund without raising taxes.”
Cathey presented his legislation for considering during a committee hearing Monday.
Under Cathey’s legislation, half of the sales tax revenues deposited in the Transportation Trust Fund would be allocated equally among the nine multi-parish highway districts under the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD).
Sen. Bodi White, who chairs Senate Finance, noted Cathey’s legislation had a competitor in Sen. Barrow Peacock’s Senate Bill 1, which mirrored Cathey’s bill in many respects. Each legislation proposed different methods for appropriating the same source of funds, meaning only one of the pair’s bills might make it out of committee, if either did at all, White suggested.
“We may only be getting $250 (million) right now with that 0.45 but when the economy is better, it’s closer to $500 (million),” said White, R-Baton Rouge.
One senator offered an amendment to Cathey’s legislation to restrict the expenditure of money to the construction of infrastructure, rather than to any administrative project expenses like engineering.
“If we’re going to pull this money out, it needs to go to hard surfacing,” said Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek. “Knowing we have a full DOTD staff, that they are on payroll, this would be for concrete and asphalt surfacing.”
“Many of these administrators are already on salary,” she added.
Cathey echoed Cloud’s remarks.
“We want to make sure we’re being the most efficient stewards of taxpayer dollars and that any money we put toward roads and bridges actually goes toward the construction of roads and bridges and isn’t being sucked up at headquarters,” Cathey said.
Sen. Glen Womack objected to Cloud’s amendment, voicing concern that restricting any dedicated money to the Transportation Trust Fund might hamper the progress of state infrastructure projects.
“Just saying, ‘None,’ I’m a little concerned about that,” said Womack, R-Harrisonburg.
Womack pointed out that administrative costs might include the design of plans, not simply work performed by DOTD staff.
“I don’t want to trade quality for quantity,” Womack said.
Cloud offered to withdraw her amendment and proposed returning with a proposed cap on administrative costs.
“I would be open, I think, to having some expertise say these should be sufficient, this is overkill, something,” Womack said.
Sen. Gregory Tarver argued it was premature for the committee to approve any legislation appropriating state revenues like the 0.45-percent sales tax since the state’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year was incomplete. Currently, revenues from the 0.45-percent sales tax are deposited in the state general fund.
“We don’t know what’s in that budget right now,” said Tarver, D-Shreveport. “We need to start putting this stuff on the pile until we get the budget.”
White, the committee chairman, asked Cathey to pull his legislation for the time being, until his legislation could be compared with Peacock’s bill.
“Everybody on this panel wants to put more money in roads,” White said.
Recalling Tarver’s point, White said, “It’s a very cloudy picture right now.”