Massive Indiana House roads plan includes higher fuel rates, tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/9/2017

The beat goes on at the Indiana statehouse in an effort to pump more revenue into the state’s ailing road system via multiple methods that concern professional drivers.

Two weeks after the House Roads and Transportation Committee narrowly approved a bill that is touted to help the state address the $1.2 billion annually needed for roads over the next 20 years, the House Ways and Means Committee followed suit Wednesday on a 14-9 vote.

The 66-page bill now headed to the House floor includes plans to raise fuel use taxes by a dime, tie the tax rates to inflation, increase vehicle fees, authorize tolls, and privatize certain aspects of commercial vehicle enforcement.

Sponsored by Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, HB1002 would remove from statute a requirement for the General Assembly to approve tolling certain portions of interstates.

“The world is changing, and so the reason we are doing things ... is so as that gasoline tax falls off, we have a study for tolling. Will it fill the gap?” Soliday said during a recent meeting.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has communicated to Senate leadership, and Gov. Eric Holcomb, the concerns of its nearly 4,655 members residing in the state and thousands more professional drivers who operate on Indiana highways each day.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, said the Association is “dumbfounded” by the provision to remove what little oversight the General Assembly has regarding toll roads.

“By repealing the legislative approval process, the legislature is effectively washing its hands of any oversight and accountability,” he said. “Instead, all major tolling decisions will be determined by the governor and unelected government officials. At best, this is bad public policy.”

He added that the state’s decision more than a decade ago to lease the Indiana Toll Road was a disaster.

“The authorizing legislation and lease agreement were seriously flawed, traffic projections were overstated, toll rates for truck nearly tripled,” and the company running the toll road filed for bankruptcy three years ago, Matousek said.

HB1002 would also require the Indiana Department of Transportation to study tolling and submit a waiver to the Federal Highway Administration to allow tolling on existing interstates.

The Association says tolling infrastructure that was constructed and maintained by tax dollars is fundamentally wrong.

“Under no circumstance should taxpayers involuntarily cede their right to access and ownership to roads and bridges that belong to them,” Matousek said.

Another concern highlighted by the truckers’ group is a proposed weigh-in-motion pilot program that would privatize certain aspects of commercial vehicle enforcement.

“The first-of-its-kind program will incentivize enforcement for profit, eliminate due process protections, and is a strong deterrent for law-abiding motor carriers to operate in Indiana,” Matousek added.

Also included in the lengthy bill is a plan to raise the state’s 18-cent-per-gallon gas tax and the 16-cent diesel tax by 10 cents. In addition, the state’s 11-cent surcharge tax on diesel would nearly double to 21 cents.

The taxes would also be indexed on an annual basis. Annual adjustments would be capped at one penny.

Democrats at the statehouse are opposed to tax and fee increases. Instead, they are advocating for a four-year plan to raise nearly a billion dollars annually via existing revenues and freezing corporate tax breaks. The Republican-led Ways and Means Committee, however, rejected changes offered by Democrats.

Another component of the plan calls for revenue from the state’s sales tax on fuel to be devoted solely to the state Highway Fund.

State law now allots the equivalent of one penny of the sales tax on fuel to the state highway account. The other 4.5 cents is routed to the state’s general fund.

Vehicle fees would also be implemented to the tune of a $15 annual fee on all vehicles, including those registered under the International Registration Plan. A $150 annual fee would also be added on all electric vehicles registered in the state.

The bill could be considered by the full House as early as next week. If approved there, it would move to the Senate.

OOIDA encourages Indiana truck drivers to communicate any concerns about provisions in the bill with their state House and Senate lawmakers.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Indiana, click here.

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