Lawmakers need to address funding to fix roads

Good roads are an essential component of local infrastructure. Without them, economic development is nearly impossible. In addition, poor roads tend to drive away prospective residents.

So it is encouraging to hear that state legislators are looking at giving local governments more money to maintain this vital segment.

Republican leaders in the Indiana Senate would like to give $418 million to local governments to help improve their roads. Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Lafayette, unveiled the proposal this month, which would be paid for with local income tax revenues currently held in reserve accounts by the state. The state banks the money to prevent cash flow problems, but the balance has grown over the years.

Hershman’s plan, which will be taken up when the General Assembly meets in January, would return a significant chunk of that money through one-time payments to local governments, with dollar amounts determined by how much in income taxes their residents contributed.

Seventy-five percent of the money would have to go to road improvements, but local governments could spend the other 25 percent any way they like.

Hershman said his proposal, which has Gov. Mike Pence’s support, is “a reflection of our confidence in the system.”

How to fund Indiana’s poorly rated roads has emerged as a vexing issue for lawmakers. It became a political problem for Pence this summer after Democrats attacked him for an emergency closure of an Interstate 65 bridge near Lafayette that lasted for months.

In response, Pence proposed a $1 billion roads plan, which boosts short-term road spending by drawing down the state’s budget reserve by $250 million while borrowing another $250 million. However, Pence’s plan was criticized because it focused only on state highways and bridges, while leaving locals out.

So far proposals put forth by both Democrats and Republicans — including Hershman’s — have failed to address the need for a sustainable and long-term way of paying for road repairs. Gas taxes currently are used to pay for infrastructure improvements, but motorists have increasingly switched to fuel-efficient cars, leading to a decline in tax revenue.

House Speaker Brian Bosma has said that finding a long-term solution is a priority for him, stating that “nothing is off the table.”

While the plan does not address the long-term funding problem, it does represent a solid opportunity for local governments to maintain streets and roads and catch up on some long-neglected projects. We urge lawmakers to give this measure serious consideration.

At issue

Good roads are an essential component of local infrastructure.

Our point

It is encouraging to hear that state legislators are looking at giving local governments more money to maintain streets and roads.