TERRE HAUTE – Worn-out roads weren’t on Toby Daggett’s mind when he pulled his 1996 Chevy Cavalier into a Jiffy Mini-Mart on Tuesday.
He had enough cash in his pocket to buy a soda and about two gallons of gas to get his daughter to school and back for a few days.
Unemployed and disabled, Daggett said he can’t afford an increase in gas taxes even if the extra pennies help fill potholes and repair bridges.
“Can’t they get the money to fix the roads from someplace else?” he said.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence thinks so. On Tuesday, he announced a plan to spend $1 billion in new funding for state highways and bridges over the next four years without raising taxes.
Under increasing political pressure, Pence instead proposes pulling money from several sources, including the state’s surplus and general fund, to combine with borrowed dollars.
“Indiana is committed to ensuring we have the infrastructure for our families and our communities and our state to prosper,” he said at a press conference.
Skeptics say doing that will take much more. They cite studies that find the state’s current funding to maintain its infrastructure falls short by $1 billion year. They want the governor and lawmakers to look long-term solutions, including at the unpalatable proposal of hiking the gas tax.
Scott Hornsby, an Indianapolis engineer, said Pence’s proposal is “better than nothing.”
“But we need a long-term fix,” he said.
Hornsby heads a coalition of industries and individuals with a stake in road funding. The group, called Fix My Roads Indiana, is working to educate voters on how deteriorating infrastructure is already costing them money, from broken tire rims to time lost on congested highways.
They hope the argument softens the blow of an increase in the gas tax, now 18 cents per gallon, or other options that ask motorists to pay more.
Justin Palmer, who was also buying gasoline at the Jiffy Mini-Mart in Terre Haute, said he hasn’t seen the campaign on social medial or billboards, but he agrees with the premise. He said he is willing to spend another 20 cents for a gallon of gas, on one condition. “It would have to be spent on fixing the roads,” he said.
The state’s gasoline tax hasn’t increased since 2003. But collections are eroding due to several factors: Increased fuel efficiency, reduced miles traveled and a decline in buying power because of inflation.
The state Department of Transportation, which has taken no position on a gas tax hike, estimates the average Hoosier spends about $18 a month in federal and state gas taxes.
Had the gas tax kept up with inflation, increasing to 23 cents per gallon, Indiana would collect an additional $500 million per year in road and bridge repair funds.
David Bottorff, head of the Association of Indiana Counties, said that money “would go a long way” toward helping communities repair aging infrastructure.
Of 22 percent of bridges that are considered structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, most are owned by counties, not the state.
Pence’s plan doesn’t include new dollars for counties, cities or towns.
“We’d hope locals would be included in (Pence’s proposed) revenue stream,” Bottorff said. “We’ve got 69 percent of the roads and over 12,000 bridges that we have to maintain.”
Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, agrees that Pence’s plan won’t drum up enough money. “The roads in some parts of rural Indiana are awful, awful, awful,” he said.
Many states, including those led by Republicans, are hiking gas taxes to keep up deteriorating roads and bridges. This year, six states increased gas taxes by a range of less than a penny to 7 cents on the gallon.
Purdue University economist Larry DeBoer says an increase of one penny per gallon will generate $29 million for the state every year.
“Who’s going to notice one cent, two cents or even a 10-cent hike? Gas prices fluctuate every day,” DeBoer said. “But raising taxes just doesn’t fly in Indiana.”
Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for the CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com