INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Republicans who control the Indiana Legislature have embraced the term “user
fee” to describe the extra amount they want drivers to pay under their
proposal to raise money for infrastructure projects.
It’s a euphemism
Democrats and conservative groups seized on Wednesday, emphasizing that no
matter how the proposal is marketed, it’s still a tax increase.
The GOP majority is
facing that public relations challenge as it tries to sell a plan that would
increase the state’s 18-cents a gallon fuel tax by a dime while charging an
additional $15 for vehicle registration.
The condition of
the state’s crumbling infrastructure - and the need to find new revenue to
pay for improvements - is the top priority for the legislative session. But
it’s an awkward conversation for Republicans who over the last decade cut
income, corporate and property taxes that primarily benefited the wealthy.
The tax increases, or “user fees,” they now want to increase will impact
motorists of all economic backgrounds.
“A user fee or a
tax increase - both are one-in-the-same,” said Justin Stevens, state
director for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, the political
arm of billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch. “They do
that to avoid being seen as raising taxes, but they are raising taxes. Just
be honest with us.”
Rep. Dan Forestal,
the ranking Democrat on the House transportation committee, added: “They
think they can fool Hoosiers into thinking that a tax increase is a user
fee. In the end it is still money out of their pocket.”
sought for several years to find a way to pay for improvements to the
state’s roads and bridges without borrowing money, tapping the state’s $1.8
billion reserve fund or cutting other programs.
It’s proven to be a
vexing challenge. Gas taxes, which haven’t been raised in over a decade,
have declined sharply as a result of new fuel efficient vehicles, cutting
into the primary source of roads funding for the state. On top of that, much
of the sales tax also collected on fuel purchases is devoted to other
That leaves the
state struggling to pay the estimated yearly cost of infrastructure
maintenance and upgrades that some estimates suggest could top $1 billion.
In addition to raising taxes, some Republicans say tolling will likely be
necessary in the future to meet that figure.
House Roads and
Transportation Chairman Ed Soliday says the term “user fee” makes sense
because the proposal would make motorists pay for a government service they
“This is an attempt
to get people who use the system to pay for the system,” the Valparaiso
conservatives aren’t buying it. They are using social media to target
Republican lawmakers, some of whom have signed conservative activist Grover
Norquist’s pledge never to raise taxes.
But Soliday says
Indiana’s infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life and needs to
be replaced. It’s a challenge much of the country is facing, he said.
“Many of our cities
have roads and streets that are over 75 years old,” he said. Later he added:
“We didn’t single out the middle class. If you use it, you pay for it.”