Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Gas Tax Hike Death Great News For Louisiana; Even Better for Kenner


When I heard the news that Baton Rouge State Rep. Steve Carter, a Republican no less, had proposed a $.17 gas tax hike, I almost lept out of my seat.

Aside from almost doubling the current $.20 cent per gallon gas tax, taxes on gasoline are one of the more regressive forms of taxation out there. Gas taxes disproportionately impact lower income individuals. Everything is impacted by gas taxes. Farmers pay more to run their equipment. Public transportation costs increase. The cost of transporting goods to retail stores and food to grocery stores and restaurants increases. Costs increase at all levels and we all know who pays for that added cost – you and I.

So, essentially, a gas tax hurts consumers in multiple ways – directly at the gas pump and indirectly as the cost of goods increases.

 Proponents of the gas tax increase, including Kenner State Rep. Julie Stokes (who is campaigning for the State Treasurer’s job), point to the high cost of vehicle maintenance on Louisiana drivers and the backlog of state projects that aren’t funded.

And, after all, the average cost to drivers for the gas tax hike is only a few hundred dollars per year. Clearly it’s worth that cost for improved roads and less time in traffic, right?

Wrong.

First, while the backlog of state projects is massive, there is no panacea for reducing traffic congestion. Besides, the main traffic bottlenecks in most Louisiana cities, from New Orleans to Shreveport, is the antiquated Federal interstate system.

Sure, there are state road issues. But adding $.17 to every gallon of gas won’t make the fix the potholes in New Orleans or make rush hour traffic on Williams Blvd. in Kenner (or Johnston Street in Lafayette, or any road in Baton Rouge) any better.

Besides, many municipalities, including Kenner, have tax dollars already allocated for road maintenance.

And, we haven’t even touched on the waste, fraud and abuse at the Louisiana DOTD.

As is typical in Louisiana, only 11% of the current $.20 per gallon state tax actually goes to roads, bridges, etc. You know, the things that a gasoline tax should actually go for.

Where is the other 89% spent?

DOTD salaries; the State Police; and a chunk is diverted to pet projects across the state that have little to nothing to do with transportation.

So, I was relieved when State Rep. Carter pulled his gas tax bill, even after he dropped it down from $.17 to $.10.

Whether it’s $300 Million annually that would have been collected at the revised $.10 rate, or the $500+ Million from the original $.17 figure, that money will be better spent by you than our state government.

While I realize that there were amendments added to the bill and other bills requiring the money to go to actual projects (other than the State Police and DOTD salaries), that would not have fixed the already bloated DOTD and the 89% of the current tax NOT spent on roads and bridges.

Our Governor and Legislators should fix those issues FIRST, before coming to us and making us pay higher taxes.

Now, I’m not saying that we don’t need better roads and our bridges don’t need to be maintained and the backlog of road projects aren’t needed. Clearly, we need to maintain what we have and add where we can. But, I am saying that there needs to be a better option than almost doubling a tax.

As is the case with elected officials today, instead of fixing a problem (DOTD waste, fraud and abuse; diverting the current gas tax from roads), they try to spend themselves out of the problem (at our expense).

The death of the gas tax hike means we won’t have more money taken from our pockets and that’s good news for all Louisianans, but it’s even better for Kenner residents and it all has to do with Louis Armstrong International Airport.

The Airport? What does that have to do with the gas tax increase?

When it was announced that Armstrong Airport was expanded, I tried to sound the alarm that the expansion would be bad for the City of Kenner.

Then-Mayor and current Jefferson Pairsh Sexual Predator-In-Chief Mike Yenni, was giddy over the expansion and could only see $ signs as he thought of ways to add permits and fees to make some short-term money from the expansion.

The bigger issue to me was the addition of flyover ramps from the airport that would divert traffic from Kenner intersections (and businesses). While less traffic in Kenner is certainly a plus, the loss of sales tax dollars from motorists and car renting tourists stopping to buy food, fuel or other items, would impact Kenner’s finances (and our businesses) for years to come.

While the construction of the flyovers is years behind, Yenni took the additional step of making the funding of the flyovers a top priority for the Jefferson Parish Legislative Delegation.

Since the flyovers will cost Kenner (and Jefferson Parish) sales tax revenue, this makes absolutely no sense.

In an effort to get additional votes for his gas tax bill, Rep. Carter tried specifying projects in his bill that would be funded with the increased gas tax revenue.

Sure enough the Armstrong flyovers were included.

While the flyovers will be constructed eventually, I’m told that the construction is 6-8 years behind schedule, the further this can be kicked down the road the better for Kenner and our businesses.

In addition to the loss of sales tax revenue, the flyovers will also require the Loyola Fire Station to be moved, costing the City of Kenner and its residents more money.

Yes, the short term fees and permit revenue from the Airport is nice, but they would have been nicer if our City Council hadn’t already spent every last penny on pet projects instead of saving the money and allocating it towards the fire station relocation and the businesses that will be hurt by Mike Yenni’s deal with the Devil (yes, I’m talking about you Mitch Landrieu).

In the end, the Armstrong Airport expansion will hurt Kenner. Instead of doing their jobs and putting Kenner First, Yenni and the then-City Council only thought about themselves and how they could funnel more money to their campaign contributors in the form of lucrative no-bid engineering contracts for meaningless projects.

Perhaps Kenner State Rep. Julie Stokes should also do her job and put Kenner First instead of campaigning for another job.

While I didn’t ask him, I seriously doubt that John Kennedy, the man Stokes is trying to replace, would have approved of the $.17 tax hike and I also seriously doubt that Louisiana wants a new State Treasurer that looks to increase taxes first.

With the death of the gas tax, and without the full funding for the flyovers, Kenner is safe – for a bit. At least until the next time a politician tries to reach into your pocket and raise your taxes instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of actually reforming our state and its finances.


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