By Tim Grimes
Lawmakers frustrated by worsening revenues for roads considered three bills in the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that could inject about $400 million annually into transportation and infrastructure projects.
Some of that would come from the 7 percent sales tax charged on fuel purchases but now sent to the state's main checking account. And some would come from the portion of 18-cent-per-gallon excise tax now used for license branches and state police costs.
Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, proposed the bill that would capture 50 percent of the sales taxes charged on gas purchases. The money would be used for local roads funding but it would be distributed by the state.
Soliday said it was important for individual counties to take responsibility for their roads and raise taxes to fund them. However, he also said that some counties are better off than others and that it's up the state to distribute money to counties that don't have the capital to fund infrastructure.
"We need to be able to distribute the money in a way, and that's where the state comes in, so that we can get money to those counties that are less affluent," Soliday said. "We can't just say, 'Okay, Switzerland County, take care of your own problems, raise your own taxes.' They've got 1,200 people. So, what kind of tax are they going to charge?"
Reps. Tom Saunders, R-Lewisville, and Todd Huston, R-Fishers, proposed bills that would shift some of the funding for the state police and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles from the gas tax revenues and to the state budget, freeing up more money for roads. Huston's bill would take BMV funding out of the gas tax pool and Saunder's bill would do the same with the state police.
Saunders says his bill will leave more gas tax money to the counties for their transportation needs.
"I just thought it made sense that we pay for government services out of state government money versus what should be going back to the locals," Saunders said.
Gas tax money has either dropped or stayed constant over the past couple of years, which has caused a strain on county governments that need to fund roads and infrastructure projects.
Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said that he would like his county to fund pavement replacements on roads at the rate of 35 miles of road per year. But Murtaugh said the county only has the funding to repair 13 miles of road a year. He also said many of the infrastructure projects in Tippecanoe's 10-year plan have now been moved back to 18-20 years.
Jasper County Commissioner Kendell Culp said his county's highway department has been reduced by 16 employees, a cut so deep that the department's assistant superintendent had to take over a snow plow route.
House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown postponed votes on the bills.
Tim Grimes is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.