Proposed increases in costs for Indiana motorists generated the most interest among taxpayers voicing opinions during the opening Third House legislative session of the season.

House Bill 1002, authored by Rep. Edmond Soliday, R-Indianapolis, has been proposed to help pay for Indiana highway infrastructure needs. If enacted, it would implement a 10-cent, one-time increase on the state tax on gasoline, diesel and other motor vehicle fuels.

Hoosier motorists also would pay an extra $15 in vehicle registration fees if the bill is signed into law. The bill also would repeal restrictions on when a tolling project can be undertaken, opening the door for increased toll roads on Indiana highways.

House Bill 1002 also would assess an additional $150 from each Hoosier who registers an electric car, a point shared with the audience by Pam Clark, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Bartholomew County Council last year.

Story continues below gallery

“The more responsible we try to be with solar panels and fuel-efficient cars, the more we end up being penalized,” Clark said.

But if all Hoosiers drove electric cars, there would be no dollars for roads basing revenues solely on gasoline-tax receipts, Walker said.

“If you use something, you have to pay for it,” said Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, suggesting that the electric-vehicle fee is not an attempt to be punitive.

“It’s been 14 years since we had a pay raise for motor vehicle taxes,” Walker told the audience of nearly 70 people gathered Monday at Columbus City Hall.

After being asked for reassurances that new revenue would be used exclusively for road and bridge repair, both Walker and State Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, said that appears to be the intent — at least for now.

But Walker did stipulate a Senate version of the measure would allow excise tax increases to provide raises for officers with the Indiana State Police.

Smith said the Indiana Department of Transportation is projecting it will need $1.2 billion annually over the next 20 years to maintain the state’s roads and bridges.

“Our most important job is to have a balanced budget,” Smith said.

Handgun law

While gasoline taxes and infrastructure prompted the most questions, it was a proposal to relax handgun restrictions that sparked the biggest reaction during Monday’s session.

Bartholomew County Sheriff Matt Myers said he had signed a petition being circulated by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association to oppose House Bill 1159.

The measure, authored by State Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, seeks to repeals the requirement to obtain a license in order to carry a handgun in Indiana.

“I have major concerns with letting people carry handguns without any type of background checks or things of that nature,” Myers said. “With all the gun violence going on in the nation, I think that’s definitely the wrong direction to go.”

Social issues

Walker said an increase in drug use by parents has doubled the number of Indiana child-intervention cases over an 18-month period.

“When people are willing to throw their kids under a bus for the next hit or fix, we have a large social problem,” Walker said.

Sixth-graders from ABC-Stewart Montessori School attended the session, and student Axel Adlen asked — with 43 percent of family in Columbus eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch — what the state was doing to help families at or near the poverty level.

Walker said all efforts of the Indiana General Assembly are undertaken with the ultimate goal of improving the lives of all Hoosiers.

If you go

Third House sessions, sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, are held every Monday morning while the Indiana General Assembly is in session except for President’s Day, Feb. 20.

The 7:30 a.m. meetings in the first-floor Cal Brand meeting room at Columbus City Hall will only be cancelled if the local schools are out of session.

The Third House program has been held in Columbus for more than 45 years, sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. The town-hall-style meetings allow residents to learn where their representatives stand on matters before the Indiana General Assembly, and address their individual concerns.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.