Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Rep. Soliday makes road funding a top priority

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Indiana residents can expect their state lawmakers to mull over issues involving the state budget, infrastructure, county government and elected vs. appointed school boards in the new year, said Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso.

The 118th Indiana General Assembly officially begins next Monday when legislators take to the floor at 12:30 p.m. Duneland time.

Entering his fourth term as the representative for House District 4, Soliday will continue his role as chairman of the House’s Roads and Transportation Committee. He is also involved with the Utilities and Energy Committee, Veteran’s Affairs and Public Safety Committee, the Elections and Apportionment Committee, and is one of the two members on the state’s Counterterrorism and Security Council.

Gas tax reform

Regarding the Transportation Committee, Soliday said he hopes to get some bills ready to fund improving roads and bridges which he said is becoming “a huge issue.” One of the things to be considered includes a possible bill to study the creation of a replacement tax for vehicles that use less gasoline per mile or use other types of fuel.

Soliday said the tax on gas sales is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, but its value is being “eroded away” by inflation. Also, cars will now be made with better gas mileage (President Barack Obama’s administration has required that all cars be made to get at least 50 miles per gallon by 2025) and large truck fleets are converting to petroleum, so the study will consider charging a fee for miles driven. Another purpose of the study is to examine how people with electric vehicles will pay their share towards the tax, Soliday said.

Because of the decline in gas tax collections, the Department of Transportation sees a shortfall of nearly $200 million annually.

“You’ve got to make up that difference or live with the potholes,” Soliday said, adding that Porter County is one county in the state which has been very efficient in maintaining its infrastructures.

School Boards

One bill passed into law last year that stirred up members of the Porter County Council was HB 1072, which said non-elected governing bodies such as appointed school boards are subject to have their budgets reviewed by a county, city or town fiscal body.

With Valparaiso School Corporation having an appointed board, the Council was told by the state it had to sign off on the 2013 budget since part of the district is in unincorporated Porter County. The Council has the power to reduce but not increase the levy.

A number of County Council members did not feel they had the expertise to review the budget and they sought a professional audit and passed a resolution supporting the formation of an elected Valparaiso school board.

Soliday believes that the body best suited to do a review of the school budget is the Valparaiso City Council because they are elected by the citizens of that school district and he is looking to amend the law in the upcoming assembly. He said it made little sense for the County Council to review the budget since all of them, with the exception of Karen Conover, R-3rd, live outside the VSC district.

“I would not be surprised if we have that budget go over to the City Council where it belongs,” Soliday said. “The City Council has the power to not appoint or to appoint a school board. The people who elect them are the ones who need to be informed as to the budgets being dealt with.”

Soliday said he may introduce a bill that would create a hybrid VSC board with some appointed, some elected.

County non-reverting fund

On the topic of County government, Soliday will introduce a bill that puts a cap on a non-reverting fund that is part of the County Auditor’s budget. The Porter County Council created a non-reverting fund for County Auditor Robert Wichlinski to recoup funds from homestead violators which has since created an excess of $1 million.

The new law would cap the fund and turn the rest over to the County Council, Soliday said. “We want (the County) to have the resources to collect taxes from people who inappropriately claimed deductions but we also didn’t plan to create that the kind of largesse.”

Meanwhile, Soliday said he does not expect any major legislation to be passed this year on new funding for County E-911 centers seeing shortfalls. The state last year passed a bill creating a 90-cent surcharge on all phones which Soliday said has brought in more monies than the previous system.

New governor

Soliday said he has yet to form an opinion of Republican Governor-elect Mike Pence, who is succeeding two-term Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.

“We have a separation of powers form of government which I respect. Separation of powers is in the constitution, parties are not,” he said.

Soliday said he’s “not sure” if there is a lot of enthusiasm for Pence’s proposal to cut the state income tax from a rate of 3.4 to 3.06 after a study indicated the wealthiest Hoosiers would gain the most benefit.

Being a Republican, Soliday is in the House majority. The voters in November’s election increased the number of GOP members to 69 leaving a slimmer Democratic minority of 31 members.

The Republicans also maintain control of the State Senate with 33 members to the Dems’ 17 members.

 

Posted 1/2/2013