For a brief moment, set aside a few partisan disagreements about Indiana's direction.
We hotly — and justly — debate the needs of middle class workers versus the desires of investors. We differ over the value of public education in a changing society.
We spar over whether a healthier society and a cleaner environment are compatible with growth. We fight over whether civil rights should expand or contract.
People care deeply about these issues, and they should. But none of them mean much to someone stuck in traffic on I-65.
Our state's collective brain and muscles are being fed by a circulatory system that is clogged and hemorrhaging.
Debates about the future mean less when we ignore the basics of today. People have to get to work on time. Trucks have goods and services to move. Police must get to the scene. Families must know the ambulance is on the way.
Indiana's infrastructure is at best unbefitting of the "Crossroads of America" distinction, and at worst dangerous. Either way, it is a millstone around our future economic prosperity.
Over a thousand Indiana bridges are deemed "structurally deficient." Some local streets are as much pothole as pavement. The vital Cline Avenue Bridge in Northwest Indiana has been closed for years. State Road 156 in Southern Indiana just slid into the Ohio River. This summer, our state's aorta, I-65, was closed from Lebanon to Lafayette for over a month. Trying to take shortcuts, the Pence Administration just squandered $71 million on slipshod asphalt that fell apart.
Our infrastructure simply cannot be defended to businesses, commuters, and anyone who looks out a car window.
With ten years passed and 65 more to go on the lease, it is time to pronounce Major Moves a shortsighted failure. Thus far, it has built half a road from Evansville to Indianapolis while other places are left to crack and sprout weeds. Except for some trust fund dollars, Major Moves is done until our grandkids are drawing Social Security.
The money we collect at the pump to maintain roads continues to plummet. Gasoline tax revenue — which is paid on volume, not price — is dropping as people reasonably and rightfully find ways to stretch their fuel.
But guess what? You also pay sales tax on that same gallon of gas. And those taxes go just about everywhere except toward the road you drive.
There is a good chance you did not know that.
Fortunately, the state legislature and the Governor can change this pronto. We can decide that every tax you pay at the gas station goes to fix your highway or street.
The concept is simple, but the impact is great, and it is certainly more aggressive than anything the Governor has proposed. It would fairly redirect nearly $500 million a year toward highway maintenance and construction and — even better — to local communities and counties just struggling to keep things paved. And even better than that, the correction would not take an extra dime out of anyone's pocket. Only car and truck mechanics stand to lose. This would more than double the Governor's short-sighted transportation solution for the next four years and well beyond.
This would not fix every problem, or course. I cannot claim that each street would look like the Indianapolis Speedway. However, I absolutely claim that the proposal is bolder, fairer, and more understandable to the public than anything suggested thus far.
And there is one more thing. Unlike some other public services, roads have measurable, lasting value. Once skilled workers are done with the job, the improved road or bridge becomes a lasting asset to businesses, manufacturers, and people earning a living. They in turn generate new jobs and revenues for the rest of us.
Would this dip into the Governor's precious surplus? Not exactly. It would certainly change where the money shows up on his balance sheet, which might make his press releases lose their punch. Instead, we could read press releases about road construction instead of accounting brilliance.
The people of Indiana cannot look away from this dilemma any longer. Solutions do not require creativity, they require will. We cannot just wear the "Crossroads of America" title. We have to act like it.
State Rep. Scott Pelath (D-Michigan City) is the Indiana House Minority Leader.