Road funding debate continues, heads to House

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com 

INDIANAPOLIS — After weeks of listening to Hoosier opinions across the state, Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and other GOP legislators continue to push a gas tax hike as a solution for funding Indiana’s roads and infrastructure.

The House Ways and Means committee passed Soliday’s bill Wednesday 14-9. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

Hoosier motorists could soon pay more at the gas pump if Rep. Ed Soliday’s, R-Valparaiso, road funding plan passes. The House Ways and Means committee voted to pass the bill Wednesday. Photo by Shelby Mullis, TheStatehouseFile.com

House Bill 1002 would leave Hoosier motorists paying 10 cents more per gallon at the gas pump, increase the vehicle registration fee by $15 and create an Indiana Department of Transportation study on tolling.

The House Republican plan would also direct all sales taxes collected from gas to roads and infrastructure, leaving a $600 million dollar gap in the budget. Currently some of the money from the sales tax goes to the general fund and is used for everything from education to Medicaid.

When asked about the gap, Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said House Republicans will release a responsible budget next week.

Soliday said the bill’s philosophy calls for a comprehensive, sustainable and responsible approach to funding the state’s roads. In a previous joint meeting between the House Roads and Transportation and the House Ways and Means committees, the Republican lawmaker said the goal of the bill is to build a “safe, efficient, well-maintained system with minimum debt for our children to pay.”

Several lawmakers participated in a listening tour last month, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity-Indiana. Many Hoosiers were divided on the issue of whether taxes should be raised to cover road repair costs.

In conjunction with the bill, the committee passed an amendment Wednesday to immediately direct all sales gas tax funds to roads and infrastructure, different from the original plan to phase in those funds.

Three additional amendments suggested by Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis, were defeated by the Republican majority, 15-8. His proposed amendments dealt with bonds and public-private partnerships.

House Democrats presented their tax-free alternative to the state Monday, calling for no increase in taxes.  Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, offered the alternative as an amendment to the committee. It was also blocked by the Republican majority.

“House Democrats know, we understand, that making sure our infrastructure is fantastic is something we should be doing, and is something people expect of us,” Forestal said. “One of the core functions and responsibilities of government is ensuring people have safe roads to drive on.”

He said his hope is to work Republicans to reach a compromise on a bill everyone can agree on.

Seven Democrats voted against the Soliday’s bill during the committee meeting, while Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, and Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, also voted no.

“Because of the tolling on the bridges we have in southern Indiana, it gives me a lot of pause because I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people that work across the river that pay tolling now,” Davisson said. “I’m going to vote no at this time.”

Davisson did say he appreciated the new amendment that immediately directs sales tax toward road funding. Clere was not available for comment.

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

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