If you use it, pay for it

Posted by: Brenda Holmes and Allison Vanatsky  | Thursday, January 26, 2017

Potholes, bumps, broken pavement — we all hate them. But we also hate paying to fix them. Herein lies the central issue before the General Assembly in the 2017 session.

After extensive studying, it has been determined that Indiana will need to spend, on a yearly basis, more than $1 billion to meet the necessary repairs and replacement of our roads and bridges. This is not an arbitrary number, but rather one derived from feedback from every county in the state. We do not presently have the budgetary means to meet this level. This leaves us several choices, but only one real solution.

First, we could decide to do nothing. Of course, this is risky, especially in a state that prides itself on being the “Crossroads of America.” It would also be extremely costly. In fact, just the present condition of our roads costs the average Hoosier an extra $500 a year on vehicle repairs and maintenance. Setting this issue aside would push many roads beyond their useful life, which is clearly unacceptable.

Second, we could try to pay for the needed maintenance and construction through savings in ongoing state expenditures. However, here we have to face a reality: Indiana is not, and has not been in at least the last 12 years, an ill-managed state. We have maintained balanced budgets and fiscal restraint in what have been some difficult times. Our government is not bloated. If there was someplace to cut sufficient spending to shift to roads, the Republican super majorities — built on a commitment to budget discipline — would have enacted such cuts already. I’m not saying there is no room for improvement, as there always is, but I am saying that it is not at all apparent that the kinds of funds needed could be had from cutting existing budget expenditures that pay for public services like education and public safety.

Third, we could put trackers on every vehicle and develop a tax structure to charge folks for the miles they travel and what kind of miles they were (state, county, federal, etc.). However, very few Hoosiers would ever put up with government intrusion of this magnitude, and rightly so.

Fourth, we could try to obtain necessary funds entirely through vehicle registration fees or extensive tolling. However, for those of us who own old pick-ups we occasionally use, this would be a harsh measure. It would also be very unfair to those, such as senior citizens, who may not be driving very many miles at all. As to tolling, it is only practical in few situations.

So, where does this leave us? It is my contention that the best proxy we have for who uses the roads would be the volume tax on gasoline, which has been in place for decades. However, to continue to use this source of revenue we are going to have to adjust it both for inflation (it has not been adjusted since 2003) and for the reality that cars and trucks don’t use as much gas per mile as they once did. When we do this, increasing the tax by 10 cents a gallon would do the job.

I think that most Hoosiers will accept this, provided that it is indeed used solely for roads. In fact, when I drive through District 64 from Knox County down to Evansville, I often see gas price fluctuate by at least 10 cents already.  

Gas prices are half of what they were just four years ago. This is a great gift. It also means that while none of us would want a 10 cent increase, it will not hit us as hard as it could. It also means that those who use the roads will be paying for the roads. This is just common sense, which is usually what gets Hoosiers to the right solutions.


Rep. Tom Washburne (R-Evansville) represents District 64 which comprises Gibson

County and portions of Knox, Pike, Vanderburgh, and Posey counties.


A high-resolution photo of Washburne can be downloaded by clicking here.