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4/8/2017 4:22:00 PM
Officials: Indiana Senate bill allocates less funding for local road projects

Samm Quinn, Daily Reporter Staff Writer

HANCOCK COUNTY — Local officials hope the debate among state lawmakers will result in more funding to fix deteriorated county roads and streets.

This week, the Indiana Senate passed a bill that would allocate about $178 million to local road projects across the state — about $166 million less than they’d get under the House version of the bill, said Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield.

As local officials await word of the compromise between the two plans, they worry the Senate’s allocates the majority of the funding that would come from a proposed hike in the gasoline tax to state roads — instead of county and city streets.

For months, state lawmakers have debated the best way to fund improvements for Indiana’s deteriorating thoroughfares.

Many agree it’s time to increase Indiana’s gasoline tax — charged at the pump when drivers fuel up — by 10 cents. Lawmakers are also considering increased registration fees and other fees charged to drivers.

The House version of the bill also relies on an increase in the cigarette tax to go toward funding road work — a tax increase the Senate hasn’t approved.

Now, lawmakers have about two weeks to iron out their differences and agree on a bill to send to the governor, and city and county officials hopes the final agreement includes more funding to fix potholes and pave deteriorating local roads.

Crider, who will be among the lawmakers looking for a compromise, said road funding will likely be one of the final issues lawmakers work out as the session draws to a close.

Hancock County Highway Engineer Gary Pool addressed the Hancock County Board of Commissioners this week with concerns he has about the two versions’ differences.

The House version allocates about $174.5 million next year to the state’s local motor vehicle highway account, which helps fund city and county road improvement efforts. The Senate version allocates far less, about $24.5 million to be shared among counties, cities and towns across the state, documents show.

The Senate version allocates much of the new revenue to highways and interstates, while the House version splits the money more equally, Pool said.

He suspects if residents pay more at the pump to fund the road improvement plan, they’ll want to see improvements on the roads they live on and drive daily, he said.

“Drivers don’t just drive on state roads and interstates,” Pool said. “They live on county and local roads.”

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell said he’s watching the bill’s progress closely and hopes whatever version is passed includes additional funding for Greenfield.

Last year, the state released savings from a local income tax to counties, creating a welcome windfall city officials put toward repaving 10 miles of road. Comparatively, the funding the city typically receives paves about one mile.

But that was a one-time disbursement, Fewell said, and more street work remains. Local governments need stable, long-term road-funding options, he said.

Crider is waiting to see whether an increase in the state’s cigarette tax — proposed by the House but not by the Senate — will figure into the final plan.

He’s not opposed to increasing the tax but believes it’s more appropriate to reserve that extra funding for healthcare costs, especially as the federal government tries to revamp the nation’s healthcare plans.

Still, he wants to ensure local governments are taken care of so the Senate version increases funding for various road improvement grant programs.

“I’m hoping we have enough money to take care of locals properly,” he said. “I hope that’s where we end up.”

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• Where the Indiana's next budget proposals diverge from Senate, House proposals
• Indiana Senate committee votes to phase in gasoline tax increase for better roads
• Valparaiso State Rep. Soliday leading effort to craft road funding compromise
• EDITORIAL: New Indiana highway taxes, fees still undecided
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• More toll roads are likely in Indiana's future, House Speaker Bosma predicts
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