Indiana House committee approves tax hikes for roads

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, speaks to a House committee on Jan. 25, 2017, about his proposal to raise fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees, as well as look into tolling highways across the state, to fund a long-term infrastructure plan.

INDIANAPOLIS — The six years of hard-driving work by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, to enact a long-term funding plan for Indiana's infrastructure needs was celebrated Tuesday night by members and supporters of the state's leading business organization.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce named Soliday its "Government Leader of the Year" at an Indiana Convention Center gala attended by more than 2,000 people.

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said Soliday's data-first approach to understanding Indiana's road funding options, combined with his willingness to work with others toward the goal of stable ongoing revenue, helped build a broad coalition of support for House Enrolled Act 1002.

"He was a stalwart in working through the necessary information, building the case and offering forward-thinking legislation that was not without controversy," Brinegar said.

It passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly by a wide margin, and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb in April. The new law boosts fuel taxes by 10 cents per gallon, increasing vehicle registration fees and opens the door for interstate highway tolling.

When fully implemented, the measure will raise an average of $1.2 billion a year for state and local road and bridge construction and maintenance, as well other urgent infrastructure projects including at-grade rail crossing improvements in Northwest Indiana.

Soliday said it was "a great honor" to be recognized by the chamber, but he also was quick to share the credit with, among others, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

"Nobody does stuff alone, and we wouldn't have gotten here if it weren't for all the stakeholders who spent six years in boring meetings with me," Soliday said. "A lot of people compromised to get something done."

Soliday is the first Northwest Indiana public official in more than a decade to be named "Government Leader of the Year" by the chamber.

Former state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, last won the award in 2005 for her work establishing the "Core 40" curriculum in Indiana high schools.

Soliday's infrastructure legislation also has earned him "Legislator of the Year" honors from Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, the "Friend of Farmers" award from the Indiana Soybean Alliance and Corn Growers Association, and the Virgil "Gus" Grissom Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.