By Rick Sutton
Midwest Eagle Editor in Chief
When government shifts its focus to silly things, and not basic services, this is what you get: Toll roads. The coming legislative session will include an intense debate on the state’s biennial budget, which goes into effect July 1. Not many states do two-year budgets – I’d say it’s a hallmark of common-sense governance that we duke it out only once every two years, and adjust expenditures on the backside if revenue falls short. Which it sometimes does.
Now, after too much time spent on silliness like the constitutional right to hunt, our legislature will debate a two-year infrastructure plan, among other expenditures. December is the “Trial Balloon Month,” and if this December is any guide, we’re in for a bunch of toll plazas. Why? Well, most states have more tolls than we do. The short answer is: We elected an entirely-Republican state ticket, allowed that party to dominate the legislature again, and we’re captive to
the harsher elements of that party who believe in toll roads. Because they hate taxes. And they’ll likely find some more silliness to occupy their time instead of an honest, full-throated discussion on road funding.
Yep. They hate government, too. But they worship at the Altar of “No New Taxes.” It’s not a bad altar if you think about it; but when carried to extremes, it’s can be a knee-cap blow to economic development and our future. We need road and bridge money. Here’s just one reason why: I-69. (Insert any interstate or four-lane highway in that slot, but this is MY story, so…).When one drives north on I-69 from Indianapolis, which I do frequently, there are stretches so bumpy that regular travelers routinely drive only in the left lane. One stretch has been that way for 11 years or more – potholes so bad they jar your fillings. Oh, they’ve paved it. Several times. With thin asphalt and hours of traffic backups. But I digress.There are some elements of the controlling party who think our road needs can’t be handled by existing taxes, so we need toll roads.
Toeing that party line
Mind you, this is (mostly) the same group that brought us that brilliant hunting and fishing bill, which became a Constitutional Amendment. That legislative masterpiece was packaged so tightly that ANY legislator who wanted to escape the wrath of the National Rifle Association had to vote for it, and push it to voters, because, you know, that’s how we roll in Indiana. We’ve got time for stern discussions on the mortal threat to deer hunting, but not time for road funding discussions. But ponder this; if we’re already paying gas taxes for road construction and maintenance, for upkeep on roads for all of us, why pay tolls for new roads? Isn’t it double-taxation? Won’t those tolls be passed on to consumers when trucks carrying goods to market have to pay the same tolls? Isn’t this a tax increase disguised as something else?
The answer that belches forth from some toll road proponents is headscratch-material, but here it goes: Better fuel economy in our national car fleet means we’re purchasing less gas. And that improved mileage component of our national psyche comes to us courtesy of, you guessed it, government.The same government they hate. National Fuel Economy Standards have been cursed by the same crowd as federal government over-reach. Google“CAFA” and stand back — your laptop may explode. It isn’t a new discussion.Three decades of fuel economy standards have gotten us to this place. We use less gas, and now we have to pay for it. In this case, if we want new roads, it may mean toll roads.
Careful what you wish for.