The Statehouse bureau chief for our partners at Network Indiana/WIBC expects the 2017 legislative session, which gets underway today, to be "dominated by road funding." Eric Berman says, while many legislators agree on how much money to spend, the debate will focus on where to get the money. He says to "expect discussions" on raising the gas tax, increased tolling and additional vehicle fees.
State lawmakers spent much of the 2016 session debating road funding as well, but did not pass a long-term spending plan. Instead, legislators formed a task force to form recommendations for generating revenue to fund the projects. The group released its findings last month, saying "current funding levels are insufficient to meet the critical transportation infrastructure needs of the state."
Its recommendations include increasing the state gas tax to "recover some or all of the purchasing power lost since the gasoline tax was last increased in 2003," and indexing that tax on a yearly basis "to ensure funding stability." The task force also suggested creating road usage fees on alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles and other vehicles which pay little or no fuel tax. The task force was co-chaired by State Senator Luke Kenley (R-20) and State Representative Tim Brown (R-41).
Berman says he does not expect any social issue "flashpoints" to take center-stage this year, as they have done in previous sessions. He says Republicans "got burned once" on the debate and backlash over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and doesn’t anticipate lawmakers will be interested in revisiting that or similar measures. If Democrats had their way, Berman says many would like to see an expanded civil rights bill, but adds he does not believe that is likely because Governor-elect Eric Holcomb has already said he does not believe such a measure could pass through the legislature.
Similarly, Berman does not believe there will be much discussion about the longstanding ban on Sunday alcohol sales. He says, while legislators tend to visit that issue every few years, Holcomb has indicated that he believes the law is fine as it is at this point.
Republicans maintained a super-majority in both chambers in the November election. The 2017 legislative session begins today with a 1:30 p.m. Senate session. The House meets for the first time Wednesday afternoon.
Berman says he doesn’t expect any social issue “flashpoints” this year.