This article ran in the American Press on April 6, 2021
Fixing roads and bridges should be a nonpartisan issue. However, the political climate on the national and state legislative fronts has turned infrastructure into another divisive issue. The needs in our nation and especially here in Southwest Louisiana must be addressed without further delay. Failure to act not only impedes commerce but puts our lives in danger.
There are several positive developments for funding. The American Rescue Plan which passed Congress and was signed by President Biden has many components. Among those are funding for certain infrastructure projects including rural broadband. The U.S. Treasury is still promulgating the rules and guidelines on how the funds can be used. Congressman Garret Graves has urged Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana Legislature to use at least $1 billion of the $5 billion that the state and local governments are to receive to fund transportation infrastructure which could include major bridge crossings in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles. Congressman Clay Higgins has echoed that thought.
President Biden has announced an almost $3 trillion American Jobs Plan which has dozens of funding components. Among those: $621 billion in transportation infrastructure, $111 billion to replace 100 percent of lead pipes and service lines, $100 billion to bolster the nation’s electric grid, and $100 billion to build out nationwide high speed broadband. Our region needs all of this. Also included in Biden’s plan is $213 billion for affordable housing which is the number one issue for our region’s long-term recovery, and $100 billion on workforce development and job retraining. With over 9,500 area folks unemployed that could be major help to our area.
The issue is how to pay for all of that and more. The Biden administration wants to raise taxes on corporations from the now 21 percent to 28 percent which is below the rate before President Trump passed his tax cuts. There is little appetite from Congressional Republicans for tax increases. Senate Minority Leader McConnell has called any tax increases for corporations or individuals a nonstarter.
At the state level, Rep. Jack McFarland (R), Jonesboro, was securing support for a gas tax but pulled his plan after seeing the large amounts of federal funds coming to the state. According to the Louisiana Coalition To Fix Our Roads, Rep. Barbara Frieberg (R), Baton Rouge, has committed to filing a bill that contains 100 percent of the components of McFarland’s proposed Government Reform in Transportation (GRIT) Act.
Passage of this bill would require a 2/3 vote by the Louisiana House and Senate, a hurdle many observers think unlikely. Even though the state bill has a fee for electric vehicles, as more manufacturers put electric cars on the road a gas tax might not be a long term solution. Forty percent of the gas tax revenue would go to mega projects such as our bridge.
The Chamber SWLA is advocating for additional federal funds for the bridge whether from the American Recovery Plan or the new proposed American Jobs Plans.
With strong support from our federal delegation, the new bridge could be completely funded. The state of Louisiana has already committed about 10 percent of the cost which in the past would cover the normal 90 percent federal, 10 percent state ratio for interstates. Meanwhile the Louisiana Department of Transportation is seeking grants and federal funding to offset the cost of a new I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles and moving forward with a P-3 (Public- Private- Partnership) which would involve a toll. That’s the most sure way to “Build Our Bridge.”
In addition to the I-10 Bridge our region has hundreds of other road and bridge projects. We learned during the COVID closures and after hurricane damage, that broadband is no longer a luxury. It is a necessity for education and business. The U.S. Chamber is opposed to Biden’s funding plan saying the new taxes will slow the economic recovery. Biden’s announcement is only the beginning of the process. Along with the U.S. Chamber, we expect and urge Republicans and Democrats to seriously negotiate and find a solution to address these pressing needs.
The clock is ticking and the needs are vital to our safety and economic recovery.