Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Soliday eyes road improvements as priority for legislature

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The 2014 Indiana General Assembly will begin a 10-week run starting Jan. 6 and State Representative Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, will be using the lion’s share of his time on the Roads and Transportation Committee which he will chair again this year.

Soliday told the Chesterton Tribune his committee was given a substantial funding boost last year and he feels there is a need to allocate more money for highway improvements and lane expansion on interstates.

In the 2013 Assembly, Transportation was given more than $200 million additional funds for projects for the next two years, once the decision was made to stop subsidizing the State Police and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles with the gasoline tax, Soliday said.

The state also created the Major Moves 2020 trust fund which will receive another $200 million for each year leading up to 2020.

“We got an additional $400 million last year without raising taxes,” he said. “In a normal budget Transportation would receive $1 billion so it’s almost like we are getting 40 percent more.”

Major Moves money will be used by the Indiana Department of Transportation for major highway projects. Soliday said high up on INDOT’s priorities are additional lanes for I-65 and I-70. Some officials have stated their desire to see I-65 become a six-lane road statewide. Expansion projects are planned for areas such as Tippecanoe County, but Soliday mentioned there is local interest for the interstate to be widened here and around Rensselaer.

Soliday said however what may be more pressing is rebuilding the roads, as some have not been refurbished in 30 years or so. Maintaining roads is becoming more difficult as inflation increases, so Soliday said he will be looking for ways to use the new money allocated.

Since the gas tax is a major source of highway funds, Soliday will also ask his colleagues to look at the tax and the concept of replacing it with a vehicle mileage tax now that more hybrid and electric cars are being sold and fewer people are buying fuel and road maintenance costs are ballooning.

The gas tax is now at a flat 18 cents per gallon and even though members of the public have suggested raising it minimally to pay for road projects, Soliday said it is unlikely that will happen.

Other state governments, as well as the Federal Government, have looked at switching over to the mileage tax, he said, and deteriorating infrastructure is an ongoing issue for every state in the nation.

A study should also look at how mileage can be counted, Soliday said, adding that GPS is not the only option being considered.

Soliday advocated building a spreadsheet showing how infrastructure projects could be funded, educating the public on the different options to get feedback, and taking the time to plan them out.

Most of the bills filed in the committee will be to “clean up” some of the language in the statute, Soliday said. He said he would also work on proposals to study how expanding the South Shore Line might revitalize Lake County communities which are seeing population diminish by about two percent annually.

Soliday said he is also talking with U.S. Congressman Peter Visclosky on bringing high speed rail to Northwest Indiana without hurting the ridership of the South Shore.

“I’m interested to see something happen. I think we’ve got assets up here like no place else in the state,” he said.

In addition to Transportation, Soliday serves on the Utility and Energy, Veterans Affairs and Public Safety, and Elections and Apportionment committees.

Soliday’s district includes portions of Liberty and Jackson townships.

He is the only Duneland representative in the House Majority. The GOP outnumbers the Democrats 69-31.

Education plan

Soliday mentioned he would like to see the Assembly take a good look at allocating more money for education, particularly for pre-kindergarten children just as Gov. Pence has mentioned in his 2014 road map.

Pence’s priority is to establish a preschool voucher system for low-income families with young children. Soliday said he would like to see the state “provide funding for every kid in a family who is twice below the poverty level” to get prepared for future schooling.

“We’ve got some funding we can do that with,” Soliday said.

There are lawmakers who would like to pass legislation on education, but that may be overshadowed by the recent conflicts between Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz and the board of education. Soliday said if the two cannot come to an agreement about a particular item, house members will try to draft a solution to the problem themselves.

Soliday said he expects most of the legislation concerning education will be related to the “F” schools in Gary, Indianapolis and Evansville, and very few will affect high achieving schools like the ones in Porter County.

On E-911 funding

Two years ago, Soliday was instrumental in passing legislation that set up a new way of equalizing user fees for Indiana’ Enhanced 911 centers, 90 cents per month on landlines and cell phones and 50 cents for prepaid phones. Porter County officials have advocated state lawmakers raise the fee as the 911 center is expected to use up reserve funds after this year, but Soliday said the chance of the state raising the fee is slim since it was an arduous task the previous time.

“I don’t see any legislators talking seriously about raising the 911 fees in an election year,” said Soliday. “For there to be a huge increase, there’s going to have to be something I’m not seeing.”

The state’s 911 board has the authority to increase monthly surcharges by 10 cents each year without prior approval by the legislature.

Counties also have the option of raising income taxes to help fund their 911 centers, Soliday said.

On Governor’s tax plan

Soliday said he is not sure if there is much support for Pence’s goal of eliminating the business personal property tax to attract more manufacturing plants to the state.

Some state officials and a number of county and town officials have attacked the plan, saying county and municipal governments as well as schools and libraries will suffer if cuts are made in property tax revenues that services are dependent on.

Soliday said he believes the elimination will be phased in and that will give state lawmakers the chance to look at what else needs to be done to aid local governments.

The governor is looking to capture the attention of high tech industries that can draw an educated workforce, Soliday said and added that he found Pence’s goal worthy.

“Those are the kinds of folks we want to attract to build an emerging business. If we want those jobs to come to Indiana, we have to do something about personal property tax, but we know we have to run local government.”

 

 

Posted 1/3/2014