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GOP Road Funding Plan Gets Mixed Reviews During Hearing

Local government leaders praise the House Republican road funding plan, applauding the potential influx of money to their communities. But some taxpayer advocates aren’t happy with the source of that new money.

Each mayor who spoke during a committee hearing Wednesday - including Hammond’s Tom McDermott, Andy Cook from Westfield and La Porte’s Blair Milo - say they support the bill.

McDermott, whose city acts as a portal between Chicago and much of the Midwest, says with a current budget of $6 million a year the city is still $3 million short of being able to overlay and patch what they already have. And he says the bill's dollar-for-dollar matching grant program would help.

"It allows for home rule, which allows us to have debates in our own communities on how we solve the problem locally," McDermott says.

But Americans for Prosperity’s Justin Stevens argues that taking more money from Hoosier taxpayers with a higher gas tax isn't necessary since there is enough money in the state reserve.

"Our problem is not a lack of revenue, but it's a lack of priorities," Stevens says.

Valparaiso Republican Representative Ed Soliday, the bill’s author, says polling shows most Hoosiers would be ok with the gas tax increase, which amounts to about $25 more a year for the average driver.

Lawmakers are also debating whether they should increase the state’s cigarette tax as part of their road funding bill. Soliday says the tax hike would replace funds taken out of the General Fund to support infrastructure.

All money received from that increase would go to Medicaid.

IU Health representative Julie Clary says projections show the tax increase would lead about 40,000 Hoosiers to quit smoking and could save 14,000 lives.

"The increase would also prevent 55,000 young adults from starting to smoke, saving another 27,000 lives," Clary says.

But convenience retailers cry foul.  Circle K Vice President Bruce Landini refutes Clary’s claim.

"As the Speaker said on Monday the dollar increase will put us on par with Michigan and most of Illinois," Landini says. "Frankly as a proud Indiana businessman I cringe at the notion that Indiana is using these two states as a benchmark for tax purposes."

And Landini, who says tobacco accounts for about 40 percent of his sales, says further widening the gap between Indiana and surrounding states will lead to black market activity.

Ways and Means committee members say an amendment will be considered next week to remove the cigarette tax increase from the bill.

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