Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

April 30, 2013

State roads might be this year's big winner

— Gov. Mike Pence might see the 5 percent income tax cut delivered last week by the General Assembly as a “great victory” for Hoosiers, but for Matt Greller and the local governments he represents, it was the $215 million in new road repair money that was the real win of the 2013 session.

Greller, head of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, is witness to what a decade of dwindling highway dollars from the state to local communities has meant.

As a boy growing up in Brown County, he remembers when the gravel road in front of his family’s home was paved for the first time. “It was an event,” Greller said. “We all came out to watch.”

Now that road has been turned mostly back to gravel because the county has lacked the money to pay for repairs.

A few weeks ago, while Indiana’s first-term governor was traveling the state boasting of the state’s surplus and promoting his grand vision of a 10 percent tax cut as an economic stimulator, the Brown County Commissioners were finalizing details of a $2 million loan they’ve taken out to patch up miles of crumbling roads.

It’s a story that could be told in communities across the state that have miles of roads gone to pot. In the years between 2000 and 2010, the major sources of road repair money collected by the state and doled out to local governments dropped by about $100 million.

Evidence of the lack of investment in local infrastructure can be seen on back roads and main roads in almost every county in Indiana. In 2009, studies done by Purdue University’s Local Technical Assistance Center and by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated it would take more than $800 million to fix just half of all county-paved roads in Indiana that are badly in need of repair.

Michael Hicks, a Ball State University economist and self-described fiscal conservative, remembers finding himself in what he calls the “rare position” of arguing for a tax hike a few years ago when he urged his county council to adopt a local wheel tax to pay for road repairs.

“I was driving to work every day over some of the worst roads I’ve ever traveled,” Hicks said. “They were as bad as any I’ve driven, including the roads I’d driven during the extensive years I spent in Asia and Africa.”

Hicks believes the $100 million drop in highway funding is misleadingly low. While it represents the drop in state highway fund dollars from the state to the locals, it doesn’t include the walloping hit from the property tax caps ushered in by the General Assembly in 2008.

Those caps, approved by 70 percent of voters in a 2010 referendum, imposed austerity on local governments, which rely on property taxes as a main source of funding for public services.

Hicks and Greller view the long-term value of the caps differently (Hicks is more optimistic they’ll eventually force local government consolidations and efficiencies) but both agree on this: Bad roads don’t just lead to damaged cars and irritated motorists. They damage a community’s prospect for growth and economic development.

It’s not hard to find irony in the political decisions from the past. Two years ago, it was Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, a champion of tax and budget cuts, who scornfully derided: “Michigan and Illinois are grinding road back into gravel. They can’t even fix what they have.”

Here we are, now admitting to the same and having to face a clichéd but stark political truth: You get what you pay for.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for CNHI newspapers in Indiana, including the Kokomo Tribune. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Columns
  • DAVE BANGERT: Indiana's new chief justice and court's 'mom question' Two years ago, as Loretta Rush ascended from Tippecanoe Superior Court 3 judge to the state’s Supreme Court, I dropped this line in a column celebrating someone who had earned her place.“Across the state, the headline will be: ‘[Mitch] Daniels Choose

    August 14, 2014

  • JEFFREY McCALL: POTUS promises of transparency fail to materialize The United States system of government relies on citizens having full access to information that can be used in self-governance. Journalists and other First Amendment advocates were enthused when the Obama administration came into office with convinc

    August 14, 2014

  • Rob Burgess House of Burgess: RIP Robin Williams

    I was re-watching the 2006 movie “Little Miss Sunshine” Monday when I heard my phone buzz. After the credits had rolled, I looked at the screen and found myself shocked.It was a news alert that Robin Williams had died that morning at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide.

    August 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • ANDREA NEAL: 'Paddle Your Own Canoe' is a Hoosier inspiration

    Editor’s note: This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. James Whitcomb Riley was the most acclaimed, but he wasn’t the first Hoosier poet to gain national fame. Sarah T. Bolton dese

    August 13, 2014

  • DAVE BANGERT: Rokita, illegal immigration, Ebola outbreak and context At first listen last Monday, there was something so unsavory about our congressman, Todd Rokita, whipping up two full-fledged crises — Central American children at the U.S. southern border and the African scourge of Ebola — into one pungent sound bit

    August 12, 2014

  • DAN COATS: Let's give nonprofits relief from IRS delays A flurry of scandal has recently surrounded the Internal Revenue Service.Over the past few months, we have learned about missing emails from IRS employees and revelations of clear bias and hostility by a top IRS official towards organizations with ce

    August 12, 2014

  • BRIAN HOWEY: Pitchforks and pikes in our summer of discontent Congress is ... embarrassing. Our political system is failing us. On an individual basis, many of us have respect for members of our delegation. We can have a common sense conversation with a senator, congressman or congresswoman, and then they go ba

    August 11, 2014

  • DICK WOLFSIE: Enough reminders to forget It began with a simple phone call to my friend, Auri, a computer geek I asked to help me with my very successful website, which right now is attracting up to three visitors a month. To have a strong online presence, you have to spend several hours a

    August 11, 2014

  • ED VASICEK: Outsourced jobs, health crises in foreign lands The other week, my Internet was giving me trouble. I called the support number, and — to my surprise — I spoke to a representative who sounded as American as apple pie. It turned out the technical problem was an oversight on my end and fixed quickly.

    August 10, 2014

  • MICHAEL HICKS: Dodging corporate taxes Corporations are among our oldest institutions. Something like a joint stock company probably triggered the earliest formal written communication — the accounting ledger. It should be unsurprising that the early traders of Mesopotamia used a corporat

    August 10, 2014

Latest news
Featured Ads
Only on our website
AP Video
NYC Doctor-in-chief Seeks Community Approach Indonesian Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesters Raw: Shots Fired in Liberian Shantytown DOJ, Bank of America Reach Record Settlement Raw: Cubavision Airs Images of Fidel Castro Raw: Grief After Deadly Airstrikes in Gaza Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Kathy Griffin Challenges Minaj to 'a Booty Off' Johnson: Six Arrests, No Tear Gas in Ferguson Raw: Rescue, Relief Efforts at Japan Landslide Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream Raw: Woman Escorted From Ferguson Protests California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Holder Hopes to Bring Calm to Ferguson US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Obituaries
Poll
Kelly Lafferty's video on Tom Miller