Commentary: Good roads and bridges benefit all of us, so we all should pay

By Janet Williams
TheStatehouseFile.com

Drive more than five minutes on Indiana’s roads and bridges you’ll know that Indiana needs to invest serious dollars in repairs and maintenance.

You’ll rumble over crumbling asphalt and dodge potholes, and when you cross a bridge with a truck hauling a full load of freight, you’ll hope that this isn’t the day the aging support beams give way.

 

There’s actually a one in five chance that the bridge you’re rumbling over is

Janet Williams, editor, TheStatehouseFile.com

structurally deficient or obsolete,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The same federal data show that 17 percent of Indiana’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition. (Frankly, it feels like a lot more.)

All of this costs the average Hoosier motorist about $500 a year in additional car repairs, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has said of why the taxes are needed.

So, it’s good news that the governor and Indiana House are developing a plan to fund the state’s roads and bridges for the next 20 years, even if it means raising taxes. Yes, you heard that right. In a state better known for cutting taxes and then cutting some more, the governor and the members of the Republican-controlled House want to raise some taxes to pay for repairs, maintenance and future needs of the state’s roads and bridges.

House Bill 1002 relies on a combination of taxes and fees to raise the money needed for these vital projects. Taxes on the gas and diesel we use to power our cars and trucks would rise by 10 cents a gallon, a substantial hike from the 18 cents we currently pay.

In addition, vehicle registration fees would go up by $15 and electric cars would be hit with a $150 registration fee. The measure even takes into account the need to grow the fund by pegging the gas tax to the rate of inflation, though it wouldn’t rise by more than a penny each year.

Trouble is, they’re taking what amounts to a user-fee approach – the more you drive the more you pay.

That logic assumes that only drivers benefit from good roads and bridges, that only those who pay for the fuel or own vehicles should bear the brunt of the construction and maintenance costs.

But doesn’t everyone have a stake in a good infrastructure, even if you don’t own a car or regularly drive on Indiana’s roads? Who delivers the food you buy at your local grocery store or the goods you buy at your local shopping center? How do your children get to school? How does the mail or the stuff you buy on line get delivered to your home?

Let’s face it, until we have drones dropping off supplies of meat and vegetables to our local grocery stores or most children walking to school we all benefit from well-maintained roads and bridges.

What if we applied that same logic to other government services like schools or public safety? Then only parents would be responsible for funding public education even though we all benefit from a skilled and educated population. And we’d only pay for police if we needed them even though it benefits everyone when crime rates are low.

There’s nothing wrong with asking us to pay for what we use. But the user fee approach isn’t enough and it has never been enough to maintain our highways and bridges. They fluctuate as we drive more in some years and less in others or as we use more efficient vehicles and burn less fuel.

If we want a long-term solution to funding we should consider drawing from the general fund or funneling other tax revenues to infrastructure maintenance. It’s in the best interest of all of us that we have an infrastructure that makes Indiana a real crossroads of America.

We are part of a larger community and together, through our taxes, we fund what most of us could never afford on our own. Our taxes are an investment in our neighborhoods and in our future, improving the quality of life for all of us.

Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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