March 25, 2014

THEIR VIEW: Locals must fend for themselves


---- — Spring officially arrived this week, and city crews have been out patching potholes, county officials deciding which bridges to tag with load limits and, in Indianapolis, department of transportation officials (with the help of state lawmakers) are looking at how to spend the $200 million approved for new road construction by the legislature.

Roads, in one way or the other, dominate discussions on every level of government in Indiana.

As they should, for Indiana’s transportation infrastructure — from city streets to county roads to state highways — is crumbling and there’s not enough money available to pay to repair it.

Winter has received the most blame for the poor conditions of roads and streets, and there is some justification for that.

But roads and streets weren’t in really great shape before winter’s arrival — and haven’t been in good shape in years. They were bad before and have just gotten worse.

Gas-tax revenues have been on the decline, the result of more fuel-efficient vehicles and the discouraging impact higher gas prices are having on driving habits.

So there’s been less money for road maintenance and repairs.

And there are more miles of roads and streets to maintain: the city has added Bierhaus Boulevard and Ford Road, the state Interstate 69.

We’re still not convinced of the value of I-69.

We heard a state representative from the Evansville area laud the interstate’s construction, saying how it was saving him 20 minutes on his trips to Indianapolis.

Seems to us those 20 minutes hardly justify the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on I-69; the lawmaker could leave home 20 minutes earlier and travel on better state highways if the I-69 money had instead been invested in upgrading and maintaining existing roads.

The three most-important services local government performs are public safety, public education, and public transportation.

Yet, when it comes to public policy decisions in recent years, the state has been determined to make it extremely difficult for local governments to deliver any of those services at acceptable levels.

Police and fire protection has suffered, local schools have had to cut staff and programs and, as motorists can daily attest, local roads and streets (as well as rural state highways) are crumbling beneath the wheels of their vehicles.

The state’s approach looks to be to make local governments solely responsible for filling in any shortages in their budgets for public safety and transportation.

(The state’s approach to public education looks to be to continue to starve them for money and force the closure and consolidation of as many rural schools as possible.)

Inevitably, a new local option income tax will have to be adopted to generate the funding local governments must have to provide essential public services at the levels constituents demand.

As for roads and streets, local governments are going to be on their own; a wheel tax will be needed to raise the money to repair and maintain local roads and streets.

The highway spending bill that finally passed and was signed into law by the governor originally included $25 million earmarked for local governments to invest in roads and streets. That provision was dropped.

State lawmakers no longer are interested in helping out on the local level: tax revenues the state takes in will be spent on state projects, not shared on the local level.

— Vincennes Sun-Commercial