We’re not going to try to humor ourselves into believing that whatever scheme state lawmakers come up with for repairing and maintaining highways and bridges will have much impact here in rural Indiana.
That is, we don’t expect that whatever plan lawmakers design will greatly improve the condition of the two-lane roads we most often travel.
We’re resigned to the likelihood that for those of us who live and primarily travel outside the donut counties surrounding Indianapolis and who avoid interstates at every opportunity will end up driving on chip-and-seal highways — and will eventually come to feel damn lucky to even have that much of an “improvement.”
We do know we’re going to pay more to drive.
Indiana needs to raise an estimated $1 billion more a year over the next two decades to spend on state transportation infrastructure, and lawmakers, at least for now, appear to be headed toward approving an increase in the gasoline-tax rate plus implementing another vehicle fee to get the money they want.
The state has not been very good at prioritizing how it spends road money. Take that special-interest sinkhole Intestate 69, for instance, which eventually will cost upwards of $4 billion.
An area lawmaker once praised I-69’s construction (at least as far as Scotland in Greene County) as having shaved a whole 10 minutes off his commute to the Statehouse — at a cost of almost $1 billion.
To save a $1 billion, we’d just get up 10 minutes earlier. But that’s just us.
If I-69 was to be built, it should have been built as a toll road.
The discovery of a huge transportation funding shortfall wasn’t made overnight; it’s been on the table for discussion for many years, during several General Assembly sessions.
It was discussed, and that was about all.
The elephant in the room was the realization that there was going to have to be an increase in the supply of public money to satisfy the demand for those overdue repairs and necessary reconstruction of the state’s public-transportation system. A tax increase was inevitable.
The priority, however, was delivering on promised tax cuts. Cutting taxes gets you re-elected.
Raising taxes, even to satisfy a public want, takes courage, and a show of courage in politics usually gets you more time in the future to spend with your family.
The tax cuts the legislature agreed to in 2013 are now costing state government $1 billion a year in revenues.
Indiana, remember, needs $1 billion a year for roads.
Whatever state lawmakers choose to do, it doesn’t look like their solution will mean more money for local governments to spend on roads and streets. Local governments have, in fact, become pretty adroit at finding additional money to spend on municipal streets and county roads.
But that shuffling around of funds can’t go on forever, as the appetite of the property-tax caps continues to swallow up more local tax revenues.
As they did in response to worries over the impact of the earlier tax cuts, state lawmakers seem to be ready with a salve for shortages in local road and street funding: the state has already made it easier for the adoption of a local wheel tax, and now they look to be offering local governments the option of adopting their own vehicle fees as well.
Bottom line: Inevitably, we’re going to be paying more to drive, and maybe on better roads.
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