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Democrats Warn Bigger Road Funding Fight Lies Ahead

Pelath: Gas tax hike was one thing, but eventual toll discussion will rile Hoosiers

Republican legislative leaders are celebrating the end of a session they say accomplished all their goals for the year. Democrats see more of a mixed bag.

All but nine of the 30 House Democrats voted against Republicans' 20-year road funding plan -- Senate Democrats split down the middle. Democrats repeatedly argued the tax and fee increases will hit ordinary Hoosiers. Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) says Republicans could have raised money and spread out the burden by revoking some planned corporate tax cuts.

House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) and Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne) argue Hoosiers have benefited from more than a billion dollars in tax cuts of their own. And Bosma says the burden of a 10-cents-a-gallon gas tax hike will fall disproportionately on business, especially the trucking industry -- yet trucking organizations supported the bill because of the benefits in efficiency and maintenance costs from driving on better roads.

Like Lanane, House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) voted against the bill, but is subdued in discussing the gas tax hike -- he's said previously the idea of gas taxes as a funding source is less of a problem than the size of the increase. And he says he's happy to see Republicans earmark gasoline sales taxes for roads -- House Democrats proposed that two years ago, though the parties disagree on how quickly to make the shift. But Pelath warns there's a tougher battle looming in the next decade, when legislators talk about tolls. He says that's a cost that stirs stronger emotions because drivers feel its impact instantly.

Lanane says he's disappointed Democrats' social agenda went ignored during the session. Bills to allow tougher sentences for hate crimes and create an independent redistricting commission received hearings but not votes, while proposals to raise the minimum wage and extend civil rights protections to gays and lesbians didn't get even that far.

But Pelath praises Governor Holcomb's successful push to double-track the South Shore Railroad, which runs through his hometown of Michigan City. He predicts a big economic boost for northern Indiana as easier transportation opens up the region as a home for Chicago commuters.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City, left) and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)


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