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Indiana lawmakers start final session phase with road funding bill

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – As the 2017 Indiana legislative session entered its final phase, lawmakers started with a plan to increase the price at the pumps to fix roads.

Finding a long term solution is a priority for both democrats and republicans this year. On Monday, lawmakers began to have conference committees.

A meeting where both chambers work out differences. With less than two weeks to go, some felt it’s imperative to start with the road funding bill.

“This is really, other than the budget, the biggest issue that we have this session,” State Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said.

INDOT said it needs a billion dollars a year, for the next 20 years to fix roads and bridges. To get the money, the House plan increases the price of the pump by ten cents a gallon, and adds $15 annual vehicle fees.

It also shifts the entire sales tax to fix roads. The Senate wants to toll, and not shift the gas sales tax.

“I think that we would be better served if we could avoid that, but obviously you have to be willing to work and compromise with people,” State Sen. Kenley said. “We’re going to see what they have to say and what they have to offer and what suggestions they have to make.”

It might seem like a small difference, but democrats say it’s a big problem. “I think it’s safe to say at this point, it’s a mess,” State Rep. Dan Forestal (D-Indianapolis) said. “The republicans in the House and Senate cannot agree on anything. They can’t even agree on the bipartisan effort to moving the sales tax on gasoline over.”

Democrats proposed the shift in February. Instead of raising the price at the pump and fees, they want to dip in the general fund, and cut wealthy tax breaks.

At this point, democrats are working to save the gas sales tax portion. “Making sure that it is completely going to funding our roads, finally, is what Hoosiers want and is what democrats are fighting for,” State Rep. Forestal said.

A divide that filled the House chamber Monday. The committee lasted for two hours. 20 people testified, the majority favored the republican House plan.

Now, we’ll see if the two sides can work out an agreement. “It’s not a mess,” State Sen, Kenley said. “We’re going to get this resolved.”

Committee Chairman State Rep. Ed Soliday gave no timeline as to what’s next for the road funding proposal. If a compromise is made, both the House and Senate will vote on it. If both chambers approve, it heads to the governor.

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