Did state road plan require new taxes?

(FORT WAYNE) NEWS-SENTINEL

The good news is that Indiana now has a comprehensive, 20-year infrastructure plan. No longer will legislators have to scramble each year to find the funding for stopgap road and bridge repairs.

The bad news is that it will cost us. Starting in July, our gas taxes will go up 10 cents a gallon. Also, we will pay a new $15 auto registration fee. Hybrids will have a $50 fee and electric cars a $150 fee. And somewhere down the line, the governor might get to designate one or more interstates as a toll road.

Could it have been done any other way? Alas, yes.

Indiana’s default position, when funding is needed for this or that project or emergency, seems to be, “How can we raise new money?” If this were truly the conservative state it is reputed to be, the default should more properly be, “How can we change our spending priorities to find the funding within existing revenues?”

Indiana’s just-approved two-year budget is for $32.36 billion. That works out to $16.18 billion a year. The comprehensive infrastructure plan calls for $870 million a year in “new” money toward a $1.2 million-a-year effort. By our rough calculation, that’s about 5.4 percent of the budget.

In a yearly budget of $16.18 billion, state officials couldn’t find 5.4 percent to move to an infrastructure program? Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that is true. They couldn’t find, say, 2.7 percent to offset half the cost? How about 2 percent? Or 1 percent?

But that would require a different mindset than the one prevailing in government today.

Consider this headline, from a story about President Trump’s preliminary tax proposal: “Trump’s tax plan could cost the government $6 trillion.” Yes, it could “cost” the government. That headline was in Newsweek, but you could have found it in lots of places. The idea is that the money belongs to the government and it allows us to keep some of it out of the goodness of its heart.

A more honest headline would have said, “Trump’s tax plan could save taxpayers $6 trillion.”

And just to make the discussion complete: Indiana’s two-year budget leaves a $1.9 million surplus in the pot. Half of that would have paid for more than half of the first two years of the infrastructure project.

Just saying.

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