INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Senate’s leader conceded Monday that drivers eventually will have to pay more to boost funding for the state’s roads and bridges, although legislative leaders haven’t committed to a specific plan yet.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem David Long of Fort Wayne said at an Indiana Chamber of Commerce forum that he believes the state’s gasoline tax should be indexed to increase with inflation, even as such taxes are already bringing in less money as fuel mileage keeps improving.
"It is inevitable that we have to find some new sources of revenue," Long said. "No question about it."
Republican Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb and legislative leaders have said they want a decision on a long-term infrastructure funding increase to be a focus of the upcoming General Assembly session.
GOP senators this year balked at a plan from House Republicans to increase the state’s gasoline and cigarette taxes as a way to fund highway projects. Holcomb hasn’t backed any specific funding plan, saying all proposals should be considered.
Lawmakers will gather at the Statehouse today for their largely ceremonial Organization Day meetings. The legislative session formally begins in early January, and Holcomb, the current lieutenant governor, will replace Vice President-elect Mike Pence as governor on Jan. 9.
Holcomb proposed several costly transportation projects during his gubernatorial campaign. Those included building a new Interstate 69 bridge over the Ohio River near Evansville at an estimated cost of $850 million and adding a second rail line for much of northwestern Indiana’s South Shore commuter railroad that’s projected to cost at least $200 million.
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the state is at least $1 billion a year short in needed infrastructure funding.
House Republicans advanced a plan during the 2016 legislative session that would’ve raised Indiana’s cigarette tax by $1 a pack and tacked 4 cents onto the state’s 18-cents-a-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t been increased since 2002.
That was part of a package projected to provide a $714 million boost for state roads spending in 2017 alone, but Pence opposed the plan and legislators approved a stop-gap plan without any tax increases.
Bosma said Monday that he wants to see a 20-year solution adopted and that he was sure fuel taxes would be included.
The Indiana Chamber, which is a leading lobbyist force at the Statehouse, is backing a cigarette tax increase, saying it will discourage young people from starting to smoke.
Long said a cigarette tax increase was a possibility, although he didn’t believe Republican senators were eager to do so.
House Democratic leader Scott Pelath of Michigan City said he thought Holcomb would need to take the lead in seeking any sort of tax increase.
"I’ve always believed that the chief executive has the primary role in making that case to the people," Pelath said.