By Shelby Mullis
INDIANAPOLIS — With the possibility that they’ll soon be paying more at the pump, people from around central Indiana filled a town hall Thursday night to learn more about a plan to raise taxes.
Melba Kiser, of Noblesville, and her husband participated in the meeting that was held at the Americans for Prosperity-Indiana Carmel headquarters. She said the road funding bill authored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, raises a concern for their household since her husband is a truck driver.
Melba Kiser from Noblesville attends a tax hearing at the Americans for Prosperity office in Carmel. Kiser said she had concerns with raising the gas tax. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com.
“My husband is an independent contractor. He drives for a living, and he puts about 1,400 miles per week on the vehicle so the gasoline tax is a very big issue for us,” she said.
The Kisers were two of more than 50 people who met with legislators at the town hall to ask questions regarding the proposed tax hike and other mandates proposed by the House Bill 1002.
HB 1002 would raise Indiana gas and diesel taxes by 10 cents. The proposal would peg the gas tax to the rate of inflation but cap it at no more than one cent each year.
Additionally, the bill proposes to increase vehicle registration fees by $15 and would require the Indiana Department of Transportation to study highway tolls.
Four Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, and Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, sat on the town hall panel Thursday, answering questions from Hoosiers in the audience.
“Indiana cannot afford to not to do this and do it right because our economy depends on good roads,” Kenley said. “We are the Crossroads of America.”
While the Indiana House Republicans said $1.2 billion is needed each year for the next 20 years to take care of existing roads and bridges, Kenley estimates approximately $900 million. He also said not all funds raised by the gas tax could strictly go to road and infrastructure funding, which Soliday’s plan calls for.
Torr agreed with Kenley, adding that the money collected from the sales tax on gas is used for education and other needs — not just roads and infrastructure. To dedicate all the funds from the sales tax on gas to infrastructure, lawmakers would have to find other ways to fund those programs.
Americans for Prosperity-Indiana State Director Justin Stevens said the organization wants to see all taxes on gas directed toward road funding, which is what he and several people advocated for during the town hall. Despite disagreement, Stevens called the night a success.
Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, speaks at the Americans for Prosperity office in Carmel. Kenley said he supported an increase in the gas tax and tolling. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com.
“What we saw tonight was a perfect example of the way the process works,” Stevens said. “Hopefully people were educated and will walk away with a greater knowledge of what the issues are all about. The legislators got to understand where the people are coming from.”
Sen. John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis, and Rep. Donna Schaibley, R-Carmel, also participated in the town hall.
Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said legislators need to work to educate the public about why the tax and fee increases are needed.
“The conservatives here in this General Assembly that have led the tax cuts for the last 12 years have concluded that now is the time to invest in roads,” Bosma said.
Hoosiers are invited to take part in two more town halls hosted by the Americans for Prosperity-Indiana. Legislators will travel to Jeffersonville and Fort Wayne Friday and Saturday to address similar questions.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us to get involved with local politics, as well as state and federal politics to have the voice be heard,” Kiser said. “We spoke up very loudly in this last election. We need to let our state legislators know we are paying attention and we are going to hold them accountable for their actions.”
Correction: This story has been updated from its original version to show lawmakers are discussing dedicating the entirety of the sales tax on gas to roads and infrastructure. TheStatehouseFile.com regrets the mistake.
Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.