The Journal Gazette
Thursday, March 03, 2016 10:03 pm

Road plan with tax hike passes House

Niki Kelly | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – A slim House vote of 57-35 Thursday on a long-term road plan that includes tax increases set up final negotiations for lawmakers next week on infrastructure dollars.

Senate Bill 333 also contains an additional $42 million for a Regional Cities initiative that has gotten caught up in the battle between the House and the Senate on a road funding approach.

"It’s easy to put together a significant, understandable and worthwhile roads package without tax increases" House Democrat Leader Scott Pelath said. "We could figure it out today and run it to the governor. The revenue is available. The will is there."

But House Republicans have continued to push an increase in the state gas tax as well as cigarette tax to provide additional dollars on a continuing basis.

Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, took a moment to talk about the regional cities money that Gov. Mike Pence sought. The legislature last year provided $84 million for the program but the administration declared three winners instead of two and came back asking for more cash.

"It’s about cities and counties getting together to create a region that has assets that draw employers and a talented workforce to help our economy," Torr said. "In 10, 20, 30 years down the road we are going to realize this has been transformative."

The bill will go to conference committee, where leaders in the House and Senate will try to find a compromise. The legislature will wrap up next week.

Pence and Senate Republicans are pushing for a one-time infusion of cash for state and local roads and a study over the summer for future needs.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, made clear Thursday that tax hikes are unacceptable. And he noted the long-term solution isn’t clear yet.

Nationwide gas taxes are bringing in less money and lawmakers have been hesitant to raise them. Indiana’s gas tax hasn’t increased since 2002.

"Indiana is in pretty good shape," Long said. "We don’t face a crisis but we need to continue to deal with the transportation needs of the state."

Both sides agree on a few things – using state surplus money of about $470 million in fiscal year 2017 for state highway maintenance. And they agree with providing new tools and authority for local units to raise road funding money through wheel taxes.

The proposed state tax increases would provide an additional $230 million a year for roads. 

Local lawmakers split on the bill, with eight in support and four against. Those opposing it were Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne; Chris Judy, R-Fort Wayne; Curt Nisly, R-Goshen; and Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne.

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