Transportation and Development Sec. Shawn Wilson recently said the construction backlog for the state now stands at $13.4 billion, which is an increase from where it stood when he took over the department in January, 2016. “People need to understand the backlog is really unmet needs on our system today,” Wilson said in an episode of the LaPolitics Report.
So what does that backlog include? According to Wilson, it’s the lanes of transportation that take you to and from work and school and all points in between.
“It’s the bridge repairs we need to make,” Wilson added. “I’ve closed — I think I’m on number 43 right now. Folks don’t like that I’m telling them I’m closing bridges. But there’s an impact of that. And I think that part of really being transparent is telling people what we’re doing and what are the conditions.”
In fact, 22 percent of the $13.4-billion backlog comes from bridge repairs that the state simply can’t afford to underwrite. The waiting list for new interstate lanes and general highway improvements makes up the rest of the needs.
The backlog was a major point of contention this year during the debate over a gas tax increase, which lawmakers rejected.
“Politically speaking, it’s going to be very difficult to do a gas tax,” the secretary said when he was asked if another bill would be introduced during the next fiscal session, possibly in 2018.
“The big answer is we haven’t done this for 30 years,” he added. “We haven’t increased taxes for 30 years for transportation. Everything around us has increased: the cost of doing business, the cost of materials, retirement, health care — all of that’s increased that we have to pay. So I suspect that this is going to be a long course.”
Governor’s Listening Tour Will Be Launching Pad
Gov. John Bel Edwards’ business roundtable meetings are continuing across the state. But to what end? What will come of this process?
For more than a month, the governor has been gathering with CEOs and company representatives to hear what they have to say about next year’s “fiscal cliff,” as Edwards calls it. It’s a budget shortfall expected to eclipse $1 billion.
According to a spokesperson, Edwards’ office is expected to compile the information gleaned from these meetings and share it with lawmakers and others sometime in late October. Supporters suspect that the information put forward will include a few ideas of his own that bubbled to the surface during this process.
Those who have taken part in the meetings across the state say Edwards has been more of a listener and hasn’t gone as far as to roll out any kind of legislative plan. But in nearly all the gatherings, there has been vocal support for returning to the recommendations made last year by a special budget and tax task force.
While Edwards has been touring the state, so has Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, who has been meeting with lawmakers. Barras told the Associated Press recently that by January, he hopes to have a plan that the House can get behind.
The governor’s supporters, however, are concerned about that timeline. They worry a new plan revealed at the top of the year won’t allow enough time to organize a special session before the regular session — an option the governor has said he will not pursue unless the House can show a path forward.
State GOP Has Big Vote Ahead
The Republican State Central Committee has canceled its meeting for the fourth quarter of 2017, which means the next time it gathers it will vote on the new chairman of the party.
The RSCC is the party’s guiding body. It last selected GOP Chairman Roger Villere for the top job. Villere, though, is stepping down.
The election scheduled for March of next year and the campaigning for it have already started. State Rep. Julie Emerson, of Carencro, is the latest to announce for the position, but she’s definitely not alone.
Also actively campaigning for the chair gig are longtime party activist Charlie Buckels of Lafayette, New Orleans attorney Louis Gurvich and Baton Rouge consultant Scott Wilfong. Other names to watch as possible late entries include state Rep. Barry Ivey of Central and Baton Rouge-area businessmen Scott McKnight and Derek Babcock.
How Will The Surplus Be Spent?
Tax collections performed better than expected in the last fiscal year, which ended June 30. The state is now sitting on a $140-million surplus.
It’s a rare treat for the state to have extra money to spend. But it can only be used for certain one-time expenses, such as coastal infrastructure projects, construction and debt payments.
In addition, 10 percent overall must be used on debt payments and 25 percent is directed to the so-called Rainy Day Fund, which is the state’s emergency savings account.
Lawmakers used $99 million from the fund in February. Now, House Speaker Barras wants to put the surplus into the account. Americans for Prosperity’s Louisiana chapter is on the same page and has been calling on state officials to “replenish the Rainy Day Fund.”
Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, has urged patience and recommended that the administration and Legislature take some time to make the right decision.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he’s open to different ideas.
Political History: Share Our Wealth, Post-Kingfish
After Huey P. Long’s death, what happened to the Kingfish’s Share Our Wealth program?
As you can imagine, without Long around to lead it, Long’s ambitious national political organization fell a little flat almost immediately.
Here’s an account from The Long Legacy Project, which has a digital hub at HueyLong.com:
“Following Huey Long’s death, the political heirs to his national Share Our Wealth movement agreed to support Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 election in exchange for political favors. Called ‘The Second Louisiana Purchase’ by political observers, Roosevelt halted federal investigations into Long’s political machine and millions of federal dollars were funneled to Louisiana, which had previously received little aid while Long challenged Roosevelt.
“Most of the money was pocketed by public officials and businessmen in a wave of corruption known nationally as ‘The Louisiana Scandals.’ Long’s political adversaries sought to posthumously link Long to the corruption of his successors. Without a committed leader, the national Share Our Wealth movement lost its momentum, and the political muscle of millions of Share Our Wealth club members was squandered.”
Beer League Toasts Decision
Civil District Court Judge Clare Jupiter recently handed down a ruling that essentially strikes down a special excise tax, commonly referred to as a “gallonage tax,” that’s being levied in New Orleans on high-alcohol-content beverages.
City officials said the decision will be appealed.
The lawsuit was brought in December, 2017, by the Beer Industry League of Louisiana; the Wine and Spirits Foundation and the Louisiana Restaurant Assoc. At the time, the groups argued that the tax was “invalid and imposed an unlawful burden on the industry.”
If you believe the plaintiffs, the Louisiana Constitution and state statutes limit the taxing authority of municipalities. They also contain prohibitions on taxation of the alcoholic beverage industry.
The city, meanwhile, has maintained that its unique Home Rule Charter exempts it from the constitutional and statutory restrictions that apply to other municipalities.
While she has issued a decision on this matter, Judge Jupiter is not finished with the case. The same lawsuit seeks to invalidate another “tax,” which is actually a $1,000 processing fee for restaurants and other establishments that are required to obtain a liquor license. The fee is charged in addition to the cost of a license, which ranges between $135 and $500.
Attorneys for the associations — Yvette D’Aunoy and Chais Sweat of the Middleberg Riddle Group — argue that state law specifically limits the amounts a municipality can charge for liquor license fees, and that the city is attempting to skirt those limitations by calling the $1,000 charge a “processing fee.”
They Said It
“We don’t owe you free college for being average.”
— Former Rep. Vic Stelly, on TOPS, to the Kiwanis Club of South Lake Charles, in The American Press
“For every economist there’s an equal and opposite economist — and they’re both usually wrong.”
— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, in a floor speech from last week
“I don’t find much to like about the Democratic Party.”
— Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael McDonald, in The Advocate
“Among the things I’ve heard from the Legislature, encouragement on money would not be one of them.”
— Louisiana Community and Technical College System president Monty Sullivan, in The Times-Picayune.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.