INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers continue to iron out a number of key differences on major pieces of legislation, including the state budget and long-term roads plan, as they look to end their legislative work by Friday.
While negotiations on the roads plan reach the final hours, what’s evident is that leading Republicans want to at least leave the possibility of new tolling on the table.
“This roads issue is a massive challenge,” State Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said. “And it’s gonna take some revenues to do this.”
The provision would allow the state to seek federal approval to place new tolls on the interstates.
“I wouldn’t drive 65 anymore,” Stephanie Metke said, who was driving from Bowling Green to Chicago Tuesday. “They just did that in Louisville on one of the toll bridges, and I go all the way around it.”
Lawmakers are well aware of the stigma tolling generates, but they are also aware of the revenue generators as well.
“I had the pleasure of driving from Chicago yesterday and visiting my daughter,” Kenley said Monday. “And 65 needs to be six lanes all the way across this state, and I don’t think you can do that without capturing that 38 percent of the revenue from tolling out-of-state people. And I know it’s a bad word in some people’s eyes. It’s just really the best solution for all of us.”
The tolling language in the bill is vague. Critics fear it could lead to a blank check and an expansion of new tolls along I-65, I-69 and I-70.
The group No Tolls Indiana has collected petitions and is urging lawmakers to slam on the breaks.
“They can find another way to raise money I think too,” Metke said. “I don’t think people really like the toll system.”
Like it or not, Gov. Eric Holcomb is backing the idea.
“If you take tolling off the table as an option, then you’re forced to look at raising taxes,” Holcomb said last month. “That’s a discussion for down the road, and that will be one I would have to lead with the public...and be able to answer the questions such as how and where and when.”
Leading Republicans insist tolls can't be added immediately but concede the reality is in the future.
“Eventually I hope we’ll get there,” Kenley said. “but it’s not going to be this year, but today we’re just setting the stage for that.”