Gas tax increase, user fees find support in committee

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Hoosiers could see an increase in numbers at the gas pump if Rep. Ed Soliday’s, R-Valparaiso, road funding bill is passed.

The legislation would raise Indiana gas and diesel taxes by 10 cents and increase vehicle registration fees by $15. It also proposes that the Indiana Department of Transportation be required to study highway tolls.

House Bill 1002 would also peg the gas tax to the rate of inflation but cap it at no more than one cent each year. More than 20 people testified in support for the bill.

But Tina Turner, a stay-at-home mother and business owner, did not support the increase.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, presents House Bill 1002 in the House Ways and Means and Roads and Transportation Committee. The bill would increase the gas tax to pay for road funding projects. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, presents House Bill 1002 in the House Ways and Means and Roads and Transportation Committee. The bill would increase the gas tax to pay for road funding projects. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

In a joint meeting between the House Roads and Transportation and the House Ways and Means committees Wednesday, Turner was among the business groups and organizations that shared.

“They’re going to Hoosier pocketbooks without considering all other options. They’re in there making decisions that affect our life every day,” Turner said. “It seems like they spend all day listening to unions and people that build the roads and business centers, and no one is speaking for Hoosier taxpayers except for a few organizations.”

While Turner argued that the bill would steal from Hoosiers, Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar referred to the bill as a “revenue recovery bill.” He argued the increases would compensate for low gas prices and the increase in electric cars, which has led to less money generated by gas taxes.  

To maintain the state’s existing roads and bridges, Soliday wants to raise $1.2 billion each year for the next 20 years.

The Coalition of Central Indiana Tea Parties, a conservative organization, joined Turner in opposing Soliday’s bill. Al Parson, chairman of the coalition, asked legislators Wednesday whether Hoosiers really wanted “the Crossroads of America to have such high fuel taxes.”

Parsons said that raising the gas tax 10 cents per gallon would put Indiana in the top tier of state fuel tax burdens, comparing the state to Pennsylvania, New York and California.

Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber, speaks to the House Ways and Means and Roads and Transportation Joint Committee. Brinegar voiced his support for the proposed bill that would increase the gas tax and study tolling systems. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber, speaks to the House Ways and Means and Roads and Transportation Joint Committee. Brinegar voiced his support for the proposed bill that would increase the gas tax and study tolling systems. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com

“Do we want our state in that company?” Parsons asked lawmakers.

The diesel tax hike would also rank Indiana second in the nation for highest diesel taxes.

Speaking on behalf of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, Frankfort Mayor Chris McBarnes said the association has universal support the road funding proposal, calling long-term road funding a must for the foundation of a quality community.

Soliday said the goal for the bill is to build a “safe, efficient, well-maintained system with minimum debt for our children to pay.” He said the conversation about America’s roads and bridges deteriorating began during former Gov. Mitch Daniel’s administration. With the help of an infrastructure study committee in 2010, Soliday and other lawmakers created this plan to tackle how to pay for road improvements.

The road funding proposal passed the House Roads and Transportation 8-5. All four Democratic committee members and Rep. Robert Morris, R-Fort Wayne, voted against the bill. The proposal now moves to the House Ways and Means committee.

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

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