Phil started his journalism career in 1967 as a copy boy with The Cleveland Press while attending Cleveland State University. He has been a reporter and columnist at The Times since 1984, winning multiple awards in both categories.
He currently covers Valparaiso, Kouts and Hebron in addition to writing a weekly column dealing mostly with politics in Porter County.
In his spare time he enjoys playing softball, and he has written two books, one of which is in the hands of a publisher. He and his wife Mary have a son and two grandchildren.
Governments always needs more money, and legislators stay up nights thinking of ways to make us pay more even if it means we're paying for doing what's right.
Fines are supposed to encourage people to obey the laws and they provide a pretty lucrative source of income, but it's not enough to spread around. That's why state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Tatooine, wants to fine the do-gooders.
He doesn't call it a fine, of course, or its other alias, a tax. Soliday, of Valparaiso, wants to charge a "user fee" for driving on the highways. The fee would replace the state gasoline tax, which just isn't generating enough to maintain Indiana's roads and bridges. Things are so bad, it's more likely one of the state's bridges will collapse under you than a state legislator will come up with a good idea.
As cars become more fuel efficient, we buy less gas. That should be a good thing because fossil fuels, like petroleum, are a rapidly dwindling resource that contribute to global warming. People just aren't buying enough Hummers to keep our transportation system running like a well-oiled machine, so to speak.
Under Indiana law, it's tough enough to afford the license plates on a car that wasn't built before the Truman administration, but Soliday wants to add another fee that probably will cost more than the gas tax.
In Oregon, they charge 1.5 cents a mile. Such a fee in Indiana, with our 18 cent-a-gallon tax, would cost someone who drives 12,000 miles a year $180 instead of the $108 they now pay for the tax. based on a vehicle that gets 20 miles to the gallon. Since most people probably drive more than that and get better gas mileage, the difference will be even greater.
The state could charge a set fee for unlimited mileage or it would have to keep track of how much we drive using GPS systems in the cars that also would have to differentiate out-of-state mileage. So we could wind up sending a check to each state we drive in if others adopt the system too. And you thought the NSA were buttinskies. Other lawmakers suggested charging hybrid owners $100 a year to make up for the lost taxes.
"We need to keep moving forward on how we fund our roads," Soliday said.
Fining people instead of encouraging them to help the planet doesn't sound like moving forward. Moving forward would be charging those with low gas mileage vehicles a higher fee and investing more in mass transit. Better yet, how about a bonehead tax for legislators who introduce and/or vote for ideas like this, the gay marriage amendment, or prayer and guns in the schools?
That should be enough to give Indiana the best roads and bridges in the world.
This supposedly is the age of mass communication, but there are 10 billion channels and nothing on in some people's brains.
Twice recently I heard people complain they knew nothing about a government action that impacted their lives. Told the issue had been covered extensively in the newspaper, one person said, "I haven't read a newspaper in 15 years."
This is a recurring comment, minus the specific reference to 15 years, from people professing ignorance of actions by their local officials. They whine the government is sneaking something through without the public knowing even if it's been front page news for months.
I try not to take these comments personally, even when they say it in a way that sounds like boasting, like they kicked booze or drug habits. A Paul Simon song says, "I get all the news I need on the weather report." If that's you, then you really are a bonehead.
If you don't go to local government meetings to keep current on what's happening in your town, and it's a safe bet you don't, then you should at least read about it online either by calling up the minutes of government meetings or reading the newspaper online.
Some, including The Times, at least for now, are still free for those who don't want to spend the $2 a week for a home delivery. If that's too much, local radio stations will read you stories from the local paper for their newscasts.
As a solution, the guy who hadn't read a newspaper in 15 years said the town should send an email notification of any changes in the town ordinances that could affect him. At least he didn't ask that a councilman come to his house to explain it personally.
The other case involved a rezoning. The city is only required to notify property owners within 300 feet of the property being rezoned. That's a pretty pathetic demonstration of the democratic process. In the case in question, only a couple of people were notified.
Legal ads in the newspapers also are required, but I've never actually met anyone who reads the legal ads looking for possible changes in zoning or annexations or whatever. Unless you can disguise it as a garage sale ad, only the truly paranoid are likely to see it.
Of course, the rezoning was covered in several news stories the residents also didn't read, which means I'm not very sympathetic. Besides, they lived a mile or more from the property, and the impact on them would be minimal at best.
Anyone who doesn't have 15 minutes to leaf through the paper or read it online needs to turn off "Honey Booboo" or "Duck Dynasty." It won't be long before even email notices won't be enough. They'll want everything transmitted telepathically.
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