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Legislative leaders too comfortable with road tax hike

If it already isn’t, for conservatives it should be pretty close to last straw time for Republican state Rep. Kenny Havard, with perhaps some disgust left over for Louisiana’s GOP legislative leadership on the issue of transportation policy.

Although he burst into the consciousness of many with his ill-timed sense of stripper-based humor during the past session of the Legislature, Havard during his career on numerous occasions championed big government inimical to conservatism: sponsoring legislation that essentially would halt privatization efforts, supporting Medicaid expansion, and voting to keep letting unions use taxpayers as their bill collectors.

Still, he managed to wangle a prestigious committee chairmanship, Transportation, Highways, and Public Works, by playing both sides of the street. He publicly endorsed Democrat liberal then-colleague, now-Gov. John Bel Edwards last year to take the state’s top job, but cannily refused to back Edwards’ choice for House Speaker Democrat state Rep. Walt Leger in favor of staying loyal to his party that led to the installment of Republican House Speaker Taylor Barras.

Regardless, Edwards unlikely shed any tears over Barras’ making Havard the committee’s leader, a sentiment confirmed by Havard’s recent remarks over hiking the state’s gasoline tax. The Edwards Administration has made a full-court press since the 2016 second special session’s end – during which and also in the first special session it made no attempt to move that particular increase since it tried to cram so many others dealing with operating revenues down the state’s throat – to squeeze some kind of hike out of legislators for the 2017 session.

None is needed. Even as Edwards surrogates flagellate the public with figures of $13 billion in roads needs and an additional wish list of $16 billion, redirection of spending priorities, which much more efficiently would fulfill the requests, along with other strategies of public/private partnerships and tolls can eat significantly into the backlog.

Havard seems to recognize this and/or that enough fiscal conservatives in the House and/or his committee do to know that he might not get a majority of the panel to approve of the doubling to 40 cents a gallon desired by Edwards, much less two-thirds of the chamber. Yet he clearly wants a hike, in his recommendation that a one cent per gallon refinery tax instead could help close the $29 billion gap.

But in doing so, he echoes the discredited oil processing tax of Public Service Commissioner and current U.S. Senate candidate Democrat Foster Campbell, an idea often raised and always defeated when Campbell served in the state Senate. While in his current quest Campbell has deemphasized the notion, it fits his broader tax-and-spend philosophy that looks to take a beating in the runoff election with Republican Treasurer John Kennedy.

Voter rejection of that ethos finds full backing from academic research that demonstrates the general deleteriousness of the notion on economic development. This tax also unlikely would pass constitutional muster. Nonetheless, Havard put himself on the record as backing the dumb idea.

With this latest prostration to outsized government by Havard, Barras should consider new committee leadership. Except, for some reason Barras allowed the committee to have a 2:1 Democrat advantage even as the chamber has a better than 3:2 Republican majority and even put another GOP Edwards supporter, state Rep. Rogers Pope, on it. With that lineup, one almost wonders whether Barras harbors sympathy to raising the tax himself. (For the record, the Senate version’s chairman state Sen. Paige Cortez keep making approving noises of a gas tax hike, but with Sen. Pres. Republican John Alario more than willing to lick Edwards’ boots, even with a GOP-majority body its leadership will push the body into a tax-and-spend direction.)

Hopefully, with the two-thirds requirement in place, enough House Republicans probably can save the day by rejecting Havard’s wacky suggestion and perhaps any increase to gas taxes at the pump. Their leaders don’t seem too averse to a tax-first-ask-questions-later approach on this issue, and Barras’ tolerating Havard’s continuing impertinence in supporting outsized government doesn’t commend him to conservatives, either.

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