By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Nashville, Ind.

1. HB 1002 rolling, but there's a hitch

The Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee advanced HB 1002 by a 10-2 vote Tuesday afternoon. It is positioned to raise about $672 million by 2019, with that figure expected to increase since the gas tax will be tied to inflation. It could increase by 1 cent a year. The big change from the House-passed version is that it splits the 10-cent gasoline tax over two years, or 5 cents a year. “This represents a very strong collaborative non-partisan effort to try and move Indiana forward,” said Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek.

But from the point of view of Indiana Motor Truck Association President Gary Langston, there are problems that could cost Hoosier jobs and revenue. “We’re happy that the surcharge is on the pump, and continue to support the fuel-tax increase as the most immediate, efficient revenue stream,” Langston said. “The $100 TIIF fee, the 50% IRP fee increase and the wheel-tax proposals are problematic. Indiana is unique in the number of carriers and the amount of commercial equipment we have registered here, more than any other state in the nation. Fees of this type hit carriers on equipment that is registered here but never touch our roads. If these are imposed it will drive carriers out of the state to another location that does not impose the fees, robbing Indiana of millions of dollars of ancillary revenue we receive simply because Indiana was chosen as the base state.”

In a state where the term “tax increase” could induce hives on legislators and governors, the lack of hue and cry over raising taxes is fascinating. It’s partly because gas prices are well below where they were four years ago when they flirted with $4 a gallon. And second, Indiana local roads suck. Rattle, rattle, thunder clatter, boom, boom, where’s my hubcap? Hoosiers appear willing to absorb a nominal tax hike if it results in good roads.

2. Pences profiled

Both Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence were subjects of lengthy profiles in the New York Times and Washington Post. Nuggets on the veep: 1. During the course of the last two trying weeks, as less-experienced advisers floundered – and others skipped town – Mr. Pence emerged as an effective, if not ultimately successful, wingman for a president short on competent help. 2. Over the past two weeks, Mr. Pence and Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney – another conservative former congressman – have taken on greater responsibility as the action has shifted to Capitol Hill. 3. The president briefly tried to curb his use of expletives in front of his religious vice president but has reverted to four-letter form, and Mr. Pence, who is fond of joining colleagues for moments of shared prayer, has been less religiously demonstrative around Mr. Trump, aides say. 4. “Pence has been a utility infielder when the president needs him, and he’s not trying to compete with the loyalists,” said Tom Barrack, one of Mr. Trump’s closest friends and chairman of the Trump-Pence inaugural committee. “He’s doing exactly what he should be doing.”

Nuggets on Mrs. Veep:  1. As second lady, Karen Pence, 60, remains an important influence on one of President Trump’s most important political allies. She sat in on at least one interview as the vice president assembled his staff (Washington Post). 2. Mrs. Pence has never been a big Trump fan. She was repulsed by the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape of Mr. Trump making vulgar comments about women, and has urged her husband to keep a healthy distance from him, according to current and former aides to both men (New York Times). 3. Friends and aides say she is the Pence family “prayer warrior,” a woman so inextricably bound to her husband that even then-candidate Trump understood her importance and consulted her in critical campaign moments. When Trump called to offer Mike Pence the No. 2 slot, the businessman knew Karen Pence was by his side and asked, “I hear Karen is there, too? Can I talk to her?” (Washington Post). 4. “As governor, Mike Pence had a very tight inner circle, and Karen Pence was very much a part of that,” said Brian Howey, publisher of Howey Politics Indiana, a nonpartisan political newsletter in the state. “I would characterize her as the silent, omnipresent partner. You knew she was there, you knew there was some considerable influence she wielded, but, boy, she was not public about it” (Washington Post). 5. “They are in a strong, supportive marriage bound by common faith,” said Peter Rusthoven, a lawyer active in Indiana Republican politics who has known the Pences for more than 25 years (and convinced Mrs. Pence to sign off on Pence’s 2000 congressional comeback). “I don’t think they make decisions separately” (Washington Post).

3. A rebuke from Pence’s alma mater

Vice President Pence got a rebuke from his alma mater, Hanover College, where 400 alums signed a letter that read in part: "We write to you to ask how, as an obviously devout Christian, and after four years of the enlightening liberal arts education we all received at Hanover College, you can participate in the discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and antipathy toward the poor that we see in the actions of the Trump administration. How is sowing fear and confusion among neighbors a Christian value? Scapegoating others for their differences does not bring glory to God, Mr. Vice President, but it just might bring this nation to ruin."

4. Trump ends Obama climate regs

In President Trump’s view, President Obama’s EPA “Clean Power Plan” was a “crushing attack” on the U.S. economy. On Tuesday, he issued a sweeping directive to halt regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution aimed at electric utilities, oil and gas drilling, and coal miners. “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal," Trump said at the EPA headquarters signing, where he was joined by a group of coal miners whom he promised would be put back to work quickly. “We’re going to have clean coal. Really clean coal. Together we will create millions of good American jobs, also so many energy jobs, and really lead to unbelievable prosperity.”

This is a dangerous political proposition. “If the Clean Power Plan is reneged upon, I don’t think you will see utilities going back to investing in coal because they have already reduced their infrastructure and they already have commitments geared toward natural gas,” Tamar Essner, an energy analyst at Nasdaq Advisory Services, told the New York Times. There are about 2,500 coal-related jobs in Indiana and just 75,000 nationally (down from 780,000 in 1920 and 169,000 in 1985), compared to 650,000 in sustainable energy jobs. Coal is losing out to natural gas. It’s cheaper. Utilities here in Indiana and across the country are retiring coal-fired plants and switching to natural gas. So this obsession of Trump/Pence on saving coal jobs is setting them up for a lot of disappointed voters in four years in places like West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

5. The Carrier deal

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation signed off on the Carrier deal brokered by President Trump and Vice President Pence, including $7 million in tax breaks and grants, $5 million for keeping hundreds of jobs in Indiana, $1 million for training workers, and another $1 million if Carrier follows through on plans to invest $16 million in their local plant. The investment includes plans for automation. Carrier will still cut 500 jobs, while keeping 800 jobs in Indianapolis it had considered shipping to Mexico. Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody reacted, “Today, IEDC executives approved a deal effectively rewarding Carrier for shipping 550 good-paying jobs to Mexico. While it’s important to highlight that some Hoosier working families are keeping their jobs, it’s unfortunate that workers still don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to making these deals. Gov. Holcomb is allowing Carrier to back our state into a corner, forced to dole out incentives to keep jobs here or else. Bottom line, even after the ink on this closed-door deal dries, more than 500 Hoosiers will lose their jobs. Jobs that pay on average $22/hour, above the state’s median wage.”

Watch for the weekly Howey Politics Indiana around 9 Thursday. It’s The Atomic!