By Jasmine Otam
Legislation for road improvements that would also fund a key piece of Gov. Mike Pence’s agenda passed the House Wednesday, but not by a large margin.
An amended version of Senate Bill 333 passed the House 57-35 Thursday. The bill includes the House’s road funding plan, which would raise the gas and cigarette taxes to pay for what House Republicans consider long-term road improvements. It also includes $42 million in funding needed for Pence’s regional cities initiative.
Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, was the lead author of the 2015 legislation creating the regional cities initiative, which helps fund projects to improve quality of life, economic development and job creation.
It was originally designed to award two regions with $42 million each, but Pence chose three winners and asked for additional funding from the General Assembly.
“It’s about regions, areas more than just a city, or one county getting together and trying to create a region that has assets that draws employers, and draws town workforce to help our economy,” said Torr urging representatives to vote in favor.
The bill has “funding mechanisms” for a bonus pension check for retired government workers, according to House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. $20 million would be needed to fund the so-called 13th check.
The money for the regional city initiative and the 13th check would come from the tax amnesty fund.
But some are hesitant to raise taxes to pay for road improvements.
“It’s easy to put together a significant, understandable, and worthwhile roads package right now without tax increases,” said House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, urging representatives to vote against SB 333. “It’s not even hard to do. You could figure this one out today, and run it down to the governor.”
The idea of tax hikes to fund road improvements isn’t completely welcomed in the Senate either, where leaders would rather tap into the surplus.
“We do not support the tax hikes,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne.
Long thinks studying past trends will help to determine future road trends.
“We don’t face a crisis, but we need to continue to deal with the transportation needs of the state,” Long said. “The Senate [plan] does that.”
A decision on which road funding plan gets sent to the governor will likely be determined in a conference committee.