3/16/2012 12:09:00 PM EDITORIAL: Tax cuts leave roads in the dust
A decline in property taxes that Indiana citizens applauded a few years ago now means that some local counties’ roads are getting bumpier, dustier and rockier.
As our Howard Greninger reported in Sunday’s Tribune-Star, budget-strapped counties such as Clay, Parke, Vermillion and Sullivan are converting parts of their blacktopped roads to gravel surfaces. The simple reason: gravel costs lots less than patching blacktop, repaving asphalt or applying chip-and-seal surfaces.
The budget shortfalls that all Indiana county governments are facing result from lowered property taxes that you see reflected on your tax bills. The downside is that local governments have far less revenue, remitted from the state to municipalities. Less revenue from the state equals less money for road repairs. So, counties such as Parke now have nearly as many gravel-covered miles of road as paved.
The problem extends beyond the Wabash Valley. For instance, Brown County, home to picturesque Nashville, now has more miles of county road in gravel than in asphalt. Oh, well, at least visitors get to hear the rustic crunch of gravel beneath their tires.
It’s not a situation anyone wants, and county road departments can’t be faulted for not doing more with less.
The situation is likely to become rougher — for it is unlikely incoming funds are going to rise — unless:
• more counties adopt wheel taxes and excise surtaxes to raise more funds for road repairs, or
• pickup truck drivers are forced to begin paying the same level of excise tax as drivers of cars.
Establishing wheel taxes and excise surtaxes — which must be done in tandem, according to state law — is a county decision, a decision made by seven counties in our immediate area: Vigo, Vermillion, Parke, Sullivan, Greene, Owen and Putnam. In calendar year 2010, the wheel tax brought a combined $3.9 million in revenue to those seven counties, according to the Indiana Legislative Services Agency. At least one other county, Clay, would add a wheel tax, if Commissioner Charlie Brown had his way.
Earlier this month, Randolph County raised its wheel tax, a few days after Bartholomew’s council stomped on the brakes and Madison County rescinded its wheel tax.
Different counties, different approaches.
The state needs one approach, however, on collecting full excise taxes for truck plates. Giving pickup drivers that break is a practice that has gone on far too long. Especially when one considers that trucks heavily travel county roads, it is only fair that their owners pay their fair share.
Having all county roads paved may be nothing than a dusty memory now — unless counties want to find ways to raise more tax revenue or urge the state to make pickup truck drivers pay full freight on their excise taxes.