Indiana residents can expect their state lawmakers to mull over issues
involving the state budget, infrastructure, county government and elected
vs. appointed school boards in the new year, said Rep. Ed Soliday,
The 118th Indiana General Assembly officially begins next Monday when
legislators take to the floor at 12:30 p.m. Duneland time.
Entering his fourth term as the representative for House District 4, Soliday
will continue his role as chairman of the House’s Roads and Transportation
Committee. He is also involved with the Utilities and Energy Committee,
Veteran’s Affairs and Public Safety Committee, the Elections and
Apportionment Committee, and is one of the two members on the state’s
Counterterrorism and Security Council.
Gas tax reform
Regarding the Transportation Committee, Soliday said he hopes to get some
bills ready to fund improving roads and bridges which he said is becoming “a
huge issue.” One of the things to be considered includes a possible bill to
study the creation of a replacement tax for vehicles that use less gasoline
per mile or use other types of fuel.
Soliday said the tax on gas sales is currently 18.4 cents per gallon, but
its value is being “eroded away” by inflation. Also, cars will now be made
with better gas mileage (President Barack Obama’s administration has
required that all cars be made to get at least 50 miles per gallon by 2025)
and large truck fleets are converting to petroleum, so the study will
consider charging a fee for miles driven. Another purpose of the study is to
examine how people with electric vehicles will pay their share towards the
tax, Soliday said.
Because of the decline in gas tax collections, the Department of
Transportation sees a shortfall of nearly $200 million annually.
“You’ve got to make up that difference or live with the potholes,” Soliday
said, adding that Porter County is one county in the state which has been
very efficient in maintaining its infrastructures.
One bill passed into law last year that stirred up members of the Porter
County Council was HB 1072, which said non-elected governing bodies such as
appointed school boards are subject to have their budgets reviewed by a
county, city or town fiscal body.
With Valparaiso School Corporation having an appointed board, the Council
was told by the state it had to sign off on the 2013 budget since part of
the district is in unincorporated Porter County. The Council has the power
to reduce but not increase the levy.
A number of County Council members did not feel they had the expertise to
review the budget and they sought a professional audit and passed a
resolution supporting the formation of an elected Valparaiso school board.
Soliday believes that the body best suited to do a review of the school
budget is the Valparaiso City Council because they are elected by the
citizens of that school district and he is looking to amend the law in the
upcoming assembly. He said it made little sense for the County Council to
review the budget since all of them, with the exception of Karen Conover,
R-3rd, live outside the VSC district.
“I would not be surprised if we have that budget go over to the City Council
where it belongs,” Soliday said. “The City Council has the power to not
appoint or to appoint a school board. The people who elect them are the ones
who need to be informed as to the budgets being dealt with.”
Soliday said he may introduce a bill that would create a hybrid VSC board
with some appointed, some elected.
On the topic of County government, Soliday will introduce a bill that puts a
cap on a non-reverting fund that is part of the County Auditor’s budget. The
Porter County Council created a non-reverting fund for County Auditor Robert
Wichlinski to recoup funds from homestead violators which has since created
an excess of $1 million.
The new law would cap the fund and turn the rest over to the County Council,
Soliday said. “We want (the County) to have the resources to collect taxes
from people who inappropriately claimed deductions but we also didn’t plan
to create that the kind of largesse.”
Meanwhile, Soliday said he does not expect any major legislation to be
passed this year on new funding for County E-911 centers seeing shortfalls.
The state last year passed a bill creating a 90-cent surcharge on all phones
which Soliday said has brought in more monies than the previous system.
Soliday said he has yet to form an opinion of Republican Governor-elect Mike
Pence, who is succeeding two-term Republican Governor Mitch Daniels.
“We have a separation of powers form of government which I respect.
Separation of powers is in the constitution, parties are not,” he said.
Soliday said he’s “not sure” if there is a lot of enthusiasm for Pence’s
proposal to cut the state income tax from a rate of 3.4 to 3.06 after a
study indicated the wealthiest Hoosiers would gain the most benefit.
Being a Republican, Soliday is in the House majority. The voters in
November’s election increased the number of GOP members to 69 leaving a
slimmer Democratic minority of 31 members.
The Republicans also maintain control of the State Senate with 33 members to
the Dems’ 17 members.