Search This Blog


Peacock feeling capital projects pressure

Could a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards power play be getting to taxpayer stalwart Republican state Sen. Barrow Peacock?

Peacock appeared on KEEL radio’s morning show last week to discuss an option for funding the Inner City Connector Interstate 49 route in Shreveport. Earlier last month, the interchange between I-49 and I-220 officially opened, joining the I-49/I-20 interchange about four miles south that opened nearly two decades ago, leaving just the space between – the Connector – undone to complete I-49 in Louisiana.

Related to the opening, Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson had spoken on the program. In that interview, he cast doubt on finishing the Connector any time soon. Although one reason had to do with ongoing federal studies, Wilson also said a tight funding environment had pushed the item back in the queue.

That assertion continued a long-standing, and tiresome, talking point Wilson has foisted upon the public on behalf of his boss, increasing fuel taxes sold at retail. Legislators have rejected such efforts since Edwards assumed office, which has led to the Edwards Administration’s quasi-hostage-holding of roads projects.

Of course, reallocating the way the state spends transportation dollars, by cutting needless spending and reducing subsidization of local governments for their own projects and of private users, would free up around $130 million extra a year for construction on genuinely statewide needs. And plenty of other options exist that stretch and free up funds than the Administration has pursued after tax hike rebuffs, such as the use of Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle Bonds (used to finance one area item, the I-20 exit to Barksdale Air Force base) and a public-private partnership to replace the Belle Chasse Tunnel, negating its own rhetoric on this issue.

However, Peacock may be wilting to the pressure of alleging that only tax increases can trigger completion anytime soon of major projects. Speaking on the same program as had Wilson, Peacock had a recommendation for more road dollars – reallocate 0.45 percent of the existing sales tax to that purpose, away from the general fund. He said that 0.45 cents, reestablishing part of a 1 cent hike in 2016 that expired this summer, had proven superfluous as evidenced by a likely $300 million surplus in state tax collections over the forecast for last fiscal year. Presumably, the surplus realized will ripple forward.

In the half a billion to $600 million range, the portion of the surplus usable for this purpose ($195 million) wouldn’t come close to finishing the Connector, but Republican leaders want to use funds to pay off debt for construction already done. And it would take the entire proceeds of the increase for one year just to reach the minimum.

But the state didn’t need to hit up taxpayers for the amount in the first place, as the surplus shows. Surely the state could have pulled back $200 million in spending – a little over one percent of state-sourced dollars – to negate that. Add to that reforms to the use of money already dedicated to transportation spending that would churn out money to pay for the Connector over a few years.

In essence, Peacock’s proposal is akin to the gas tax hike, also unnecessary. Which brings up the question why Peacock – who, on the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry legislator scorecard that measures size of government preference, has scored as one of the most protective of taxpayer dollars in the Senate this term – seems so willing to capitulate on this issue?

To start with, recognize Peacock has stumped for another high-dollar and even more distant item as well – a new Jimmie Davis Bridge. He also has frowned upon another Administration tactic pressuring for acceptance of a gas tax increase, the use of tolls over the bridge. Bridge replacement would cost in a range around $85 million.

So, the chess match continues. Wilson keeps stumping for the gas tax increase by intimating these two items will take a long time to come to fruition unless the hike happens soon. This puts Peacock’s anti-tax instincts to the test in his desire to see the pair of projects through.

But his accepting an increase in the sales tax without corresponding tax reductions elsewhere isn’t a middle way. A tax hike is a tax hike regardless of its form, and especially odious when needing neither for continuing operations nor capital expenses. Peacock instead should advocate for transportation spending reforms as the preferred alternative.

No comments: