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February 22, 2014

EDITORIAL: More untimely inattention to Indiana’s roads and highways

Senate move cheapens statewide repair plan

TERRE HAUTE — Good roads are a luxury item in Indiana.

Most Hoosiers would applaud Gov. Mike Pence’s objective to pull $400 million out of the Major Moves 2020 Trust Fund — a state savings plan for future big-ticket transportation projects — to renovate Indiana’s crappy interstates right away. Residents would also appreciate a $25-million grant program — crafted and approved by the Indiana House of Representatives — targeted for desperately needed road repairs by local communities.

A group of Indiana state senators, however, has decided Hoosier motorists can get by with less extravagant highways. The governor and the Indiana House thought it was time for the state to upgrade its road quality to a solid, comfortable Buick level. The senators prefer more thrifty, Yugo-caliber streets and byways. The Senate Appropriations Committee voted Thursday to slash Pence’s $400-million highway investment by half. They’ll allow $200 million from the 2020 Trust Fund to be freed up this year, but the other $200 million will be held until budget discussions in the General Assembly’s 2015 session.

And the senators just scrapped the $25-million local roads program.

In “Seinfeld” terms, the Senate would call itself “extremely careful with money,” while others would call their decision “cheap.”

Sen. Luke Kenley — a Noblesville Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee — told the Louisville Courier Journal that declining state revenues prompted the action. Saving the other half of Pence’s proposed investment until 2015 was wise because, “We’re running a little bit behind” on incoming tax revenues. As a fiscal ultra-conservative, the governor is undoubtedly aware of that shortfall, and yet he still thought Indiana’s neglected thoroughfares deserved immediate, extensive attention.

Kenley, who led the charge for the wise Major Moves 2020 Trust Fund, even acknowledged that Indiana Department of Transportation officials “made a good case that some of the [$400-million withdrawal] would go to the Major Moves type of areas that it was intended originally,” according to the Courier Journal. Other Appropriations Committee members expressed greater concern that tax revenues were falling short, and unexpected expenses have cropped up; thus, they said no to fully funding Pence’s plan.

If Indiana can’t afford better roads — and outside visitors routinely mention their sorry state — then lawmakers need to recalculate their priorities, especially in weighing corporate tax cuts against safe, driveable highways for Hoosiers.

Likewise, the Senate’s gutting of the $25-million local roads program troubled some legislators. Tim Skinner, a Terre Haute Democrat and Appropriations Committee member, told the Louisville newspaper, “I saw some real benefits to that [program] in communities around the state.” Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma saw the program as important, saying, “Locals have a lot of challenges, especially with the amount they’ve spent on salt — record amounts — and other maintenance and snow removal.”

Bosma promised the Legislature would continue discussing road funding until the session ends next month. Discussion is good, but it doesn’t pave roads.

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