State lawmakers and the governor have a couple of more weeks left in the session to come up with an acceptable plan to increase road funding.
Studies indicate that Indiana needs to invest over $1 billion annually in its roads and bridges over the next two decades to bring the state's transportation infrastructure into shape.
Although a minority of legislators do believe this $20-plus billion investment can be accomplished without resorting to any type of tax increase, cutting another $1 billion a year from the budget without sacrificing a number of popular programs seems to us a most-difficult if not truly-impossible task.
What would be the point of closing one funding shortfall only to create another?
There are House and Senate versions of road-funding bills that have been approved, and they will now go to a conference committee where leaders will try to hammer out a suitable compromise version for the governor to sign.
Both proposals call for increases in the state fuel tax, and a new registration fee.
The House version looks to shift some sales-tax revenue to roads, and to increase the cigarette tax to partially fill the hole in the general fund that shift would bring about.
The Senate version dropped the sales-tax shift, phases-in the fuel-tax increase, and adds a $5 new-tire fee and a $100 fee for commercial-vehicle plates.
From what we can tell, neither plan is anticipated to raise the full $1 billion that the various studies say is needed each year to adequately address the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure.
While it pains us to suggest this, rather than have lawmakers pass and the governor sign into law an inadequate bill that won't do the job, we'd rather have them park the road-funding issue at a rest stop, finish all their other work, adjourn and go home.
While the rest of the lawmakers are back home, resting on their laurels, the leadership and the governor could spend four weeks coming up with a plan that actually does meet the state's needs, and then call the rest of the lawmakers back to the capital for a TWO-DAY special session, during which the bill could be debated for one day and voted on the next.
And we'd like that bill to include provisions that would equitably distribute the tax burdens.
Rather than an increase in the state fuel tax, we'd like to see instead a mileage tax. The fuel-tax doesn't necessarily address who actually travels over the roads more. The owner of a Humvee traveling 10,000 miles in a year would pay an additional $100 a year given a 10-cent-per-gallon tax increase.
The owner of a Prius could drive three times as many miles and pay only about half what the Humvee owner would pay in additional fuel taxes.
And if there were to be another swing in consumer preferences toward more-efficient vehicles, we'd be right back at the starting line in the race to find more money for road upkeep.
Charging by the mile driven rather than the fuel burned seems to make more sense.
Granted, a Humvee weighs much more than a Prius, which is why we'd also prefer seeing any new vehicle fees be prorated according to vehicle weight; the heavier the vehicle the higher the fee.
To fund road repairs equitably, any taxes/fees should be based on actual motorist usage and the wear-and-tear vehicles cause.
We also agree with those such as Purdue University professor Larry DeBoer who hold that everyone, even those who don't drive or choose to use public transportation, benefit from good roads. Products have to first make it to market in order to be purchased.
We'd suggest at least some of that sales-tax revenue be shifted over to roads as a fair contribution of shoppers who don't drive.
Adequate road funding, equitably derived, is vital to Indiana, and lawmakers need to take their time in drafting and approving a road-funding bill that meets those goals.