Funds for Regional Cities tied to road funding bill

March 2nd, 2016

News Coverage:

March 1, 2016

Funds for Regional Cities tied to road funding bill

Niki Kelly, The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – House Republicans on Monday tied the $42 million in Regional Cities funding and a bonus pension check for thousands of public retirees to a road funding bill.

The political jockeying is a clear attempt to garner support for an infrastructure plan that contains controversial tax increases.

But it also leaves the Fort Wayne, South Bend and Evansville regions waiting to see if and when the economic development funding will come through. Three regions were declared winners of the initiative focusing on improving regional quality of place and population but Gov. Mike Pence still needs the General Assembly to approve the funding for the third winner.

“I think this is silly,” said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Nobles­ville. “I’m not sure what they are trying to prove.”

He encouraged cities to be patient during this last-minute negotiating.

“The legislature will do the right thing in the end,” Kenley said. “We are not going to let the governor fail to fulfill awards that were given.”

The language for the Regional Cities money and the so-called 13th check was placed into Senate Bill 333 by the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee. The extra pension payments equal about $30 million.

The committee then killed the original Regional Cities legislation, Senate Bill 302, by not taking action.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, jokingly called the additions to the road bill as “sprinkles.”

GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma is pushing long-term infrastructure funding through tax increases while Pence and Senate Republicans prefer a short-term solution with no tax hikes.

But Pence also wants the additional Regional Cities dollars and the pension check in a popular bill that could provide leverage.

Kenley said the Regional Cities money was worked out before session and the tax amnesty program provides more than enough money for it. 

He said the House Republicans’ reliance on cigarette and gas taxes for roads – both declining revenue sources –just doesn’t make sense.

“I don’t know what the furor is,” he said.

It is also unclear how all the items relate to each other.

The Indiana Constitution says an act “shall be confined to one subject and matters properly connected therewith.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, explained that all the items relate to state income and taxes, and noted the Senate was the first to tie Regional Cities to pensions.

Senate Republicans put those two together when it was possible that the House might kill a Regional Cities bill.