The Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger, Safter Tomorrow Task Force held its final meeting Monday, when it recommended hiking various vehicle-related taxes to fund the state's transportation infrastructure needs. Staff photo y Dan Carden
The Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger, Safter Tomorrow Task Force held its final meeting Monday, when it recommended hiking various vehicle-related taxes to fund the state's transportation infrastructure needs. Staff photo y Dan Carden
INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican-controlled General Assembly next month will begin considering whether to approve a variety of vehicle-related tax hikes to fund Indiana's roads and bridges over the next 20 years.

On Monday, the Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow, or, FIRSST, Task Force voted 10-1 to recommend to lawmakers 12 revenue increasing options aimed at raising the estimated $1 billion in new money needed annually to maintain and improve the state's transportation infrastructure.

The suggestions include boosting the state's gasoline tax by 8 to 10 cents per gallon to restore buying power lost to inflation, since it last was increased in 2003, and automatically adjusting the tax to keep up with ongoing changes in the value of money.

Taxes on truck fuels, including diesel, biodiesel and natural gas, also should be adjusted for inflation since their last increases in 1988 and indexed in the future, the task force said.

It also recommended charging extra fees on electric and other vehicles that use little to no gasoline, increasing the state's annual vehicle registration charge, hiking the tire disposal fee, eventually dedicating all revenue from the 7 percent sales tax on gasoline to roads and improving the collection of overweight truck penalties.

In addition, the task force urged the Legislature to work with the federal government to authorize tolling on state highways and interstates to pay for added capacity and rehabilitation of existing lanes and bridges.

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, the task force co-chairman, said the ideas represent a more aggressive "user pays" philosophy toward how Indiana funds its roads.

"If you're going to use it, then you need to help pay for it," Kenley said.

He pointed out that most Indiana motorists currently pay about $19 a month in various taxes to access the statewide road network, compared to much higher amounts to use their telephones, cable TV and the internet.

"Being the good Hoosiers that we are, we are willing to step up to our responsibility that we need a good, strong road infrastructure program for the safety and convenience of our traveling public," Kenley said, adding that the state's economy also depends in part on its role as the Crossroads of America.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said he was pleasantly surprised the task force was nearly unanimous in its support for tax hike proposals that previously have struggled at the GOP-dominated Statehouse.

He credited the panel's work since July 21 in terms of figuring out the state's infrastructure goals, how it can meet them and what it will cost.

"We've tried to be data-driven and not throw something on the wall to see if it sticks," Soliday said. "We need to solve this and we need to be able to go home and say to folks, 'You're getting your money's worth.'"

The task force recommendation does not include a per-mile tax that would use GPS or another tracking device to monitor how far Hoosiers travel and charge them accordingly.

Kenley said with only test mileage programs operating in other states, he feared if Indiana tried to be the first to fully implement such a charge it could derail the entire infrastructure funding proposal.

Soliday said by Jan. 10 he will file a road funding plan in the House that's based on the task force's recommendations.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, declared that measure will be the top priority for the 70 Republicans in the 100-member chamber. Expanded road funding also is strongly supported by the powerful Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

At the same time, Soliday acknowledged that he expects debate and negotiations on the final road funding package likely will continue until just before the Legislature's mandatory adjournment on April 29.

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