State looking for infrastructure fix

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Indiana has stumbled along too long taking care of its infrastructure piecemeal, and it shows on our roads, streets and bridges. Legislators have appropriately made finding a long-term solution a top priority in the coming session of the General Assembly. They should stay determined and not close the session without approving a plan.

One reality they must deal with in adopting a plan is the diminishing value of a gasoline tax. Cars are becoming more fuel-efficient all the time, so funding from that tax will cover fewer and fewer of the state’s infrastructure needs. And increasing existing taxes always meets with great resistance in this state, so lawmakers will have to start thinking creatively.

There are a couple of avenues they might consider exploring.

One is a mileage tax that charges drivers for the distance they drive rather than the fuel they use to drive it. It’s the same user-fee principle as the gas tax — the people who use the roads the most pay the most. People have hated this idea in the past because of its Big Brotherish potential — the notion that if the government knows how much you drive, it will sooner later want to know where you’ve been going. But most cars today have GPS as a standard feature, so drivers will get gradually more comfortable with the idea that their locations are not exactly secret.

The other is public-private partnerships (PPP or P3), which Gov. Mitch Daniels used so creatively for fund Major Moves. He was rightly criticized for leasing the toll road so far out at 75 years, but he certainly put the money to good use. There are several ways a P3 can be constructed. Sometimes the private entity bears all the costs. Sometimes the cost of providing a service is borne in part by the government. Both Gov. Eric Holcomb and Democratic challenger John Gregg have indicated an interest in using P3s, but Gregg would be more selective in employing them.

Likely whatever plan legislators arrive at will be complicated, with a lot of moving parts that have the potential to collide with each other and bring a lot of unintended consequences. Finding all the pieces and putting them together right will be a good test of legislative flexibility and creativity. We trust that our legislators will be up to the task.

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