The speaker for the January 27, 2021 meeting of Winnfield’s Rotary Club was Louisiana State Representative of District 13 and Rotary member, Jack G. McFarland. Representing the parishes of Bienville (except the town of Arcadia), Jackson, Winn (except St. Maurice) and part of Ouachita (one precinct), Rep. McFarland is chairman of the Agriculture, Forestry, Aquaculture, and Rural Development Committee.
Representative McFarland told the group that, contrary to expectations, state sales tax receipts for 2020 increased. Much of that money was received as a result of the first ICARES bill passed by Congress. However, state and local governments received no stimulus money in the latest ICARES bill which passed Congress, so none can be expected for the current year. The state ended 2020 with a $290 million surplus, but still ends the year with a budget shortfall of $229 million because much of the surplus funds are dedicated to specific funds, with only about $80 million available for the general fund to help balance the budget. Adjustments will have to be made to accomplish the balanced budget mandate.
Rep. McFarland also noted that 2021 will see the redistricting of the entire state. He said District 13 lost about 4,000 people since the last redistricting, so this district’s boundaries will shift somewhat to pick up additional population elsewhere.
Rep. McFarland is a sponsor of transportation bill currently being considered by the legislature called the Government Reform and Transportation Act (GRIT). The bill addresses a change in the state’s gasoline tax, which was last changed in 1984 to 16 cents. The amount was not indexed to the consumer price index (CPI) so it has remained at that level for 37 years, with 4 cents designated to pay off state bonds issued to finance infrastructure, 1 ½ cents to pensions and retirement funds for DOTD employees, one cent to local governments, 1 ¼ cents to fund multi-modal infrastructure such as railroad and water port facilities, 5 cents to DOTD for highways, and 4 cents for general matters.
McFarland explained that, if the 1984 tax had been indexed to increase with each increase in the CPI, it would now be 38 cents. GRIT includes provisions to gradually increase the gasoline tax to 38 cents, by 10 cents a gallon in the first year and a percentage over the next ten years to bring it up another 28 cents. In addition to bringing the gas tax up to current CPI levels, the bill will create a transportation subfund to be spent only on roads and bridges. It will further require DOTD to secure approval of the legislature for specific projects. One focus of the bill will be a $40 million rural bridge program, which is desperately needed to repair or rebuild bridges in rural areas which have been closed as they are unsafe. It will also provide additional money for maintenance of roads throughout the state. Rep. McFarland believes passage of the bill will allow the improvement of highway transportation in his district so that local industry will be able to transport its product to large port facilities.
McFarland also announced that he has been elected to the Republican State Communication Committee, which works to improve communication of the state GOP with GOP members of the House of Representatives.
The Rotary Club of Winnfield meets every Wednesday at Noon for lunch at Lynda’s Country Kitchen. For more information about the Rotary Club of Winnfield, you may contact President, Jodi Taylor (832) 573-5085. You can also find club information on Facebook at Rotary Club of Winnfield Facebook Page or online at Rotary.org.