Soliday leading effort to craft road funding compromise

INDOT Commissioner Joe McGuinness, standing at right, speaks Monday to members of the House-Senate conference committee working to merge the separately approved proposals to fund Indiana's infrastructure needs over the next two decades.

INDIANAPOLIS — A small group of representatives and senators, led by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, started working Monday to devise a compromise road funding package that both the House and Senate can support.

House Bill 1002 passed each Republican-controlled chamber with a different mix of fuel tax hikes, new vehicle fees, tolling permissions and other tax-related provisions aimed at raising about $1 billion a year in new money that will go toward ensuring almost all of Indiana's roads and bridges are in fair or better condition by 2037.

Members of the House-Senate conference committee appeared to agree that the Senate's plan to charge a $5 tax on new tire purchases should be deleted, since it likely would harm Hoosier retailers as most drivers simply would purchase tires in neighboring states.

It was less clear whether senators would get behind a House proposal to dedicate all sales tax revenue from gasoline purchases to road funding, which potentially opens a $300 million annual hole in the state's main spending account.

"It's going to take quite a mix because we're trying to raise an enormous amount of money," said state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. "We've never tried to raise this much money on any basis for any particular reason, but if Indiana is going to move forward we've got to do it."

State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, advocated for a greater share of the money to go toward local road and bridge projects, as opposed to state-maintained infrastructure.

"Yes, it may cost more money to do I-65 or I-70, but there's still a lot of local roads that appear to have more road needs and less ability to come up with the money themselves," Tallian said.

State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, urged the legislation be revised to require Hoosier workers get first crack at any construction jobs created by the tax hikes.

Soliday said he was grateful for all the different ideas and personally is continuing to refine additional elements, such as developing a public-private partnership structure for new semitrailer rest areas.

"We've not been afraid to think outside the box and explore new and different ways that we can find to fund roads," Soliday said. "We're making excellent progress toward an agreement."

The Senate sponsor, state Sen. Michael Crider, R-Greenfield, concurred: "I don't see this thing falling apart. I think there's a solid commitment."

Any compromise road funding plan agreed to by the conference committee must be approved, without amendment, by the House and Senate to advance to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature or veto.