WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) – Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday praised a short-term road funding package, saying it will pump millions of dollars in additional money into needed projects without raising taxes.
The deal reached in the last days of the legislative session will put roughly $230 million in new money into state highways and bridges over the next two years.
That is just a fraction of the $1 billion boost over four years that Pence sought, but it doesn’t include an election-year increase in cigarette and gasoline taxes proposed by House Republicans as a longer-term plan to increase funding.
The funding plan draws down the state’s $2 billion budget reserve and also gives about $580 million to city and county governments for road projects, with much of that a one-time distribution from local income taxes held in reserve by the state.
Road funding was a major debate during this year’s legislative session – and Pence said he was pleased with the outcome.
“We were able to prove in this session that we were able to do it without raising taxes,” he said. “I’ll bring that same bias to any future debates.”
Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma and other GOP legislative leaders joined Pence for a ceremonial signing of the roads package Wednesday in the Indianapolis suburb of Westfield. Pence was scheduled to formally sign it during a Fort Wayne event later in the day.
Bosma said he expected lawmakers to debate a longer-term road funding plan during their work next year on a new state budget.
The debate over highway conditions has become a major early theme in Pence’s re-election campaign against Democratic candidate John Gregg, gaining prominence last summer during a month-long emergency closure of an Interstate 65 bridge near Lafayette.
Senate Democratic leader Tim Lanane, of Anderson, said Pence opted for a “stopgap” solution.
“Every year we fail to find a sustainable, long-term solution, our roads and bridges are a year more outdated and the price tag to fix them just keeps climbing,” he said.
Another part of the package is a 50 percent funding boost for Pence’s Regional Cities economic development grant program. Some legislators had balked at the request because the Pence administration pledged $126 million split between the Evansville, South Bend and Fort Wayne areas for quality-of-life projects even though only $84 million was authorized in the state budget approved last year.
Associated Press writer Tom Davies contributed to this report.