By Shelby Mullis
INDIANAPOLIS — Several Hoosier lobbyists took advantage of what may have been their last chance to voice their support and concerns with the state’s proposed road funding plan Monday.
Significant gaps remain between the Senate and House versions of the 10-year plan to upgrade the state’s highways and infrastructure. They have two weeks to sort out the differences and send a final proposal to the governor’s office.
“I think we have more in common than we do apart,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. “We’re going to have to double our efforts and work together to really hit home.”
The House version of House Bill 1002 proved to be more popular among most witnesses Monday. The $1.2 billion plan calls for Hoosiers to pay an additional 10 cents per gallon in gas taxes, $15 more to register vehicles and a new $150 fee for electric-powered vehicles. The bill would also shift all sales tax on gasoline purchases to fund the state’s roads.
Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairs the House Bill 1002 conference committee. Committee members heard public testimony from several Hoosier lobbyists Monday. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com
Both the shift of the gasoline sales tax and the rise in the gas tax would take effect immediately.
Meanwhile, the nearly $700 million Senate version would phase in the 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax over two years. It also encourages discussion of potential toll roads and user fees such as a $5 tire fee and a $100 commercial license plate fee. The House calls for a study to determine whether some roads should be tolled.
Indianapolis business owner John Thompson favors the House version. Thompson owns four companies in the state and invests in several others, and with more than 25 vehicles on the road, he called himself a significant user of the state’s highways.
“I’m very happy to pay all user fees and taxes. I would like to see those user fees and taxes go to road maintenance and improvement. I will tell you it will create jobs, it’ll maintain jobs,” Thompson said. “I’m very, very happy to pay my fair share if it’s going to the roads.”
While Thompson said he supports the House version, he also likes the language added in the Senate version that would require owners of hybrid vehicles to pay a fee for every 75 hours of highway travel.
Several local officials said they were against the Senate version, which would cut funding for local roads by more than two-thirds from the House version.
Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, representing Aim, or Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, said the House version reflects the need of local roads and the Senate version didn’t. Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said she agreed that the Senate version lacks funding for local highway needs.
“We need to see that yes, it may cost more money to do Interstate-65 or I-70, but there’s still a lot of local roads that have more needs and less ability to come up with the money themselves,” Tallian said, referring to local municipalities.
Aim CEO Matt Greller said in a statement that an independent study commissioned by the General Assembly found that local governments need $775 million annually over the next 10 years to bring local roads to a fair condition.
But not everyone supported the House version.
Justin Stevens of Americans for Prosperity urged lawmakers to consider that the money for highway funding would come from average Hoosier taxpayers.
He said that by increasing the gasoline tax, the bill would offset what he called the “largest tax cut in state history,” which passed four years ago.
Both Senate and House Republican and Democratic 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.