INDIANAPOLIS – Republicans who control the Statehouse are lining up their political ducks to hike gas taxes and other fees to pay for roads, and Democrats are shooting at the plan.

On Tuesday’s opening day of the General Assembly, Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, predicted “huge tax increases” on the horizon for motorists even as high-income earners and corporations enjoy continued tax breaks.

“They’ve had control of the General Assembly for a number of years. Why have they waited till our infrastructure is crumbling?” Lanane said of a GOP plan to impose more “user fees” on drivers.

Lanane said pro-business Republicans should halt a series of cuts signed by outgoing Gov. Mike Pence that are costing millions of dollars in lost tax revenues.

Those include cuts to the personal income tax rate from 3.4 percent to 3.23 percent, a reduction in the corporate income tax rate from 7.5 percent to 4.9 percent, and a repeal of the state’s inheritance tax.

In the current budget year, those cuts reduced state revenues by $630 million, according to Purdue University economist Larry DeBoer, an expert in state and local finances.

The Pence administration estimates the tax cuts will add up to $3.5 billion by the time they're fully implemented.

GOP plans to hike the gas tax and raise other fees for motorists to repair crumbling infrastructure won’t be popular, Lanane said.

“There is this issue of tax fairness,” he said. “There have been billions of dollars in tax relief given to business and corporations over last several sessions. Now, do we regret that we’ve done that?”

His criticism was met with a cold reception from House Roads and Transportation Committee Chairman Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who has spent years convincing his anti-tax colleagues of the dire need to repair roads and bridges.

“It’s truly unfortunate that the Democrats want to begin the session by promoting class conflict instead of working together to find solutions to meet our infrastructure needs,” he said.

Lanane’s voice may carry little weight given the Democrats’ diminished standing at the Statehouse.

Republicans have a super-majority – 41 of 50 Senate seats and 70 of 100 House seats – and can pass legislation without a single Democratic vote. And incoming Gov. Eric Holcomb has signaled support for what he’s called a long-term sustainable road plan driven by data, not politics.

Details of the road funding plan have yet to emerge, with the General Assembly just beginning a new session.

The Senate met briefly Tuesday for procedural matters, and the House is slated to meet for the first time this year on Wednesday, in what’s expected to be an equally brief session. Both chambers are then out until next Monday.

But a legislative task force led by key Republican budget-makers recommended late last year that the state make big moves to increase road funding by $1 billion a year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said passage of the proposed measures was of “absolute paramount importance to the state of Indiana going forward the next 20 years.”

That includes what he and others described as a plan for users to pay for road improvements, including by raising the gasoline tax by an estimated 8 to 10 cents over the current 18 cents per gallon to recover purchasing power lost since the tax was last increased in 2003.

The task force also recommended hiking the special fuel tax and motor carrier surcharge tax to account for inflation. Those taxes were last raised in 1988.

And the task force is calling on legislators to impose road usage fees on electric and other alternative fuel vehicles, and to explore tolling on highways and interstates.

The only task force member who voted against the recommendations was Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis.

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