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February 24, 2013

Counties back GOP House budget plan over Pence’s plan

Indiana Association of Counties lobbying for plan that gives local governments road moneyBy Maureen Hayden

INDIANAPOLIS — The Republican-dominated Association of Indiana Counties has thrown its support behind the House Republicans’ budget plan that calls for spending the state’s surplus on roads and schools instead of a tax cut proposed by Gov. Mike Pence. 

The association’s members have been lobbying legislators to vote for the proposed House budget bill that increases funding for transportation infrastructure by $500 million over the next two years, with about half of that going to local governments to fix their crumbling roads. 

The bill, which the Republican Pence opposes because it doesn’t include his tax cut, is scheduled for a final House vote early this week then moves to the Senate. 

The Association of Indiana Counties favors not just the extra dollars but the funding mechanism: Under the budget plan crafted by the Republican-controlled Ways and Means Committee, all gas taxes will be redirected to roads. Currently, some are siphoned off for the State Police and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. 

“We think this is the fiscally responsible thing to do,” said Andrew Berger, the association’s government affairs director. 

The association is made up of elected county officials from across the state, and most are Republican. 

They may have voted for Pence last fall when he ran on a pledge to use the state’s surplus to cut taxes, but road funding is critical to them: Between 2000 and 2010, the major sources of road repair money collected by the state and doled out to local governments dropped by about $100 million, while road repair costs doubled. 

Association president Penny Luckinbill, the Republican Marshall County auditor, said the House budget plan provides the additional funding that counties need “to begin reclaiming some of the roads that have fallen into severe disrepair.”

Elkhart County Commissioner Mike Yoder, a Republican and an association board member, said the road funding plan in the House budget bill is good public policy because it uses road-related taxes to pay for road repairs and maintenance. But he said it still won’t generate enough money to pay for the estimated $800 million in needed county road repairs. 

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