Sunday, April 14, 2024

Survey: Most Louisiana residents favor higher state gas tax, but with caveats

by BIZ Magazine

By David Jacobs | The Center Square

A majority of Louisiana residents favors raising the state’s gasoline tax, though most rather would see the additional money spent improving existing infrastructure instead of building new projects, according to a new survey.

Participants in the 2021 Louisiana Survey, which LSU’s Manship School conducts annually, were asked whether they support or oppose raising the gasoline tax “if the money is dedicated to improving highways, bridges, and other infrastructure.” In response, 57% said they favored raising the tax, including 60% of Democrats, 62% of independents and 46% of Republicans.

Support fell, however, when participants were asked a version of the question that stipulated the new tax money would allow the state to bring in more money from the federal government to improve infrastructure, with 49% in favor and 47% opposed. Democratic support remained strong (63%), but support among Republicans dropped to 35%, which the report’s author suggested might reflect antagonism to federal spending.

The survey found residents favor maintenance of existing transportation infrastructure (67%) over expanding capacity (29%), with little difference among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Residents of the Baton Rouge area, where officials have been pushing for a new Mississippi River bridge for years, are more supportive of expanding capacity, but even there most favor maintenance (60%) over expansion (37%), the survey report indicated.

Rep. Jack McFarland, a Winnfield Republican, had planned to file legislation calling for a higher state gas tax but decided not to in the face of opposition. Instead, he filed House Bill 582, which would dedicate 16 cents of the 20 cents per gallon the state collects to construction and prevent the Department of Transportation and Development from spending the money on administration.

House Bill 615 by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, a Baton Rouge Republican, would levy an additional tax on fuel, dedicating 60% of the new money on highway and bridge preservation and 40% on eight new projects, including a new Interstate 10 Calcasieu River bridge and a new Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

Senate Bill 40 by Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, would allow parishes to levy a sales tax on motor fuels with voter approval. The change would require a state constitutional amendment.

Other survey findings include:

• Most residents (54%) believed the state sales tax is too high, including 53% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans. Asked about the state income tax, 41% said it is too high and 37% said it is about right;

• Fifty-two percent of Louisiana residents said they pay about the right amount in state taxes, while 41% said they are paying more than their fair share;

• Pluralities said low-income people (41%), middle-income people (48%), and small businesses (50%) pay more than their fair share of state taxes. About half believed upper-income people pay less than their fair share, and a majority (56%) said the same about large businesses;

• The public mostly did not support budget cuts or tax increases in six policy areas: elementary and secondary education; higher education; health care; roads, bridges and highways; prisons and incarceration; and welfare, food stamps and other public assistance programs. While a majority of respondents did not want to reduce spending in any of these areas, only elementary and secondary education gained a majority (59%) in favor of higher taxes;

• Majorities favored increasing spending on K-12 education (64%) and roads, bridges and highways (61%). Support for more government spending on higher education (47%) and support for raising state taxes to fund higher education (45%) fell significantly since 2018, by 12 and 13 percentage points, respectively.

Michael Henderson, an assistant professor in LSU’s Manship School of Mass Communication and director of the school’s Public Policy Research Lab is the survey’s principal author.

The analysis is based on telephone interviews conducted among a statewide sample of 781 adults living in Louisiana. The sample has a margin of error of 6.4 percentage points.

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