Five Republicans buck party line on road funding

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Five Republicans voted against the Senate Republican version of the state’s road funding plan that will likely leave Hoosiers paying more in taxes to sustain Indiana roads.

The highly-debated transportation bill passed the full Senate Tuesday 34-13.

The Senate Republican version includes a 10 cent increase in the gasoline tax phased in over two years, encourages discussion of potential toll roads, and user fees such as a $5 tire fee and a $100 commercial license plate fee.

Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, who voted against the legislation, argued the plan takes funding away from local roads in favor of state highways and interstates. She also worries it could drive some of the state’s largest companies out of Indiana.

In a recent encounter with the CEO of a trucking company in her district, Leising said the CEO threatened to move his trucking division to a plant in Tennessee.

“It’s going to cost jobs and potentially a lot of local tax to my district, because if they move their trucking to Tennessee, then obviously their trucking location in my district will be vacant,” she said.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he wanted to meet with this company to ensure this bill is right for them and the several other trucking companies across the state. Kenley said the Indiana Motor Truck Association has agreed to pay a higher diesel tax and higher fees than the bill’s current mandated fees.

“Indiana is on the cusp of making the kind of decision that you have to make at a time when you decide we’re either going to move forward and we’re going to be all those great things people say about Indiana, or we don’t have enough guts to raise the revenue,” he said.

Republican Sens. John Crane, Mike Delph, Aaron Freeman and Andy Zay joined Leising in voting against the road funding plan.

Senate Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne said the passage of the bill is a step forward in the effort to create a sustainable, long-term road funding plan.

“We have to take care of our problems. It’s on our watch,” Long said. “We can argue about how you do it. No one can argue in here that we must do something.”

But Senate Democrats are calling the bill an issue of tax fairness.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, presented an amendment Monday that would have raised the cigarette tax, phased out a moratorium on corporate income taxes, and mandated that Hoosier businesses and workers be favored during road construction, ultimately making it an “Indiana jobs bill.”

Tallian shared four reasons Tuesday behind the Democrats’ desire to improve the bill. Among those reasons, she said local roads should receive more money, Indiana jobs should be the focus, and the matter of tax fairness and tax equity should be further considered.

The road funding plan now goes to conference committee, where members of the House and Senate will hash out their differences. The House version of the road funding plan shifts all the sales tax on gasoline purchases to fund roads and raises the cigarette tax by $1 in addition to raising the gasoline tax by 10 cents. Lawmakers will continue negotiating road funding details until the legislative session ends later this month.

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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