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Louisiana Senate scraps sales tax idea, tries new road plan

June 7, 2021 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana senators Monday shelved their effort to renew a temporary state sales tax and instead unanimously backed a different tactic to steer millions of dollars more annually to roadwork that could create future budget gaps for health care, education and other services.

The new approach would dedicate 75% of the money generated each year from the state’s vehicle sales tax specifically to transportation projects. That would take those dollars away from the state’s general fund where they currently help pay for public colleges, health care services for the poor, public safety programs and other government operating expenses.

The shift would be phased in over three years, starting in July 2022. When the full 75% is shifted in the 2024-25 budget year and thereafter, it would send an estimated $375 million more annually to roadwork, with a specific list of projects favored for the money.

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“This is probably as impactful a thing as we can do in the state,” said Sen. Rick Ward, the Port Allen Republican who handled the proposal in the Senate.

No one spoke about the implications of stripping those dollars from the general fund and the budget shortfalls that could be created before the Senate voted 37-0 for the proposal.

The transportation funding measure returns to the House for consideration of the Senate rewrite to a bill by Republican Rep. Tanner Magee that started as an effort to levy the state sales tax on raw, smokable cannabis products in the medical marijuana program.

The Senate initially reworked the bill to make a temporary 0.45% state sales tax passed in 2018 permanent and send the dollars to road and bridge work, rather than letting the tax expire as planned in mid-2025. But that idea faced significant pushback in the House and appeared unlikely to pass.

With that idea struggling to gain support, senators revamped the legislation again Monday. They stripped out the medical marijuana tax and the language making the temporary sales tax permanent and added language dedicating most of the vehicle sales tax to infrastructure.

Republican Senate President Page Cortez, Ward and other senators have made coming up with more money for infrastructure a top priority in the final days of a legislative session that must end Thursday.

Already lawmakers have allocated $560 million in federal coronavirus aid to pay for infrastructure, including several phases of widening of Interstates 10, 12 and 20, port projects and work on I-49 South. They’ve also added millions of dollars in legislative earmarks to budget bills that would provide financing for specific transportation projects favored by individual lawmakers.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.