INDIANAPOLIS | Amid growing public and partisan complaints about the condition of Indiana's roads, Gov. Mike Pence announced Tuesday that he will ask the General Assembly next year to authorize $1 billion in additional funds for bridge and pavement preservation projects through 2020.
The Republican's "21st Century Crossroads" proposal estimates the extra money will help improve 220 state bridges and 1,800 miles of highway, without having to increase taxes on Hoosier motorists.
"I believe the commitment that we're making today is responsible and appropriate, and makes an important step toward ensuring that our roads can support the economic and employment growth in our state," Pence said.
Indiana already had planned to spend $3.2 billion on maintenance over the next five years. The additional funds will help bring 97 percent of state bridges and 94 percent of state roads into a fair or better rating by 2025, according to the Indiana Department of Transportation.
"Simply put, it means Indiana is committed to ensuring that we have an infrastructure for our families and our communities and our state to prosper," Pence said.
Funding for the project is slated to come from the following:
* Spending $241 million of the state's $2.1 billion budget reserve.
* Using Indiana's stellar credit rating to borrow $240 million more.
* Taking an early $50 million distribution of interest earnings on proceeds remaining from the 2006 Indiana Toll Road lease.
* Refinancing existing bonds to save $26 million.
* Lawmakers also will be asked to increase a special appropriation of $100 million a year now used for Interstate highway widening to $150 million a year for three years and dedicating that money to improving existing transportation assets.
INDOT has yet to announce which roads and bridges will be selected for preservation if the governor's plan is approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The Cline Avenue Bridge in East Chicago would not eligible, since it is set to be rebuilt by a private toll road company.
Moreover, none of the money in Pence's plan is earmarked for locally maintained roads, even though most Indiana communities are struggling to keep up their infrastructure under spending limits imposed by state-mandated property tax caps.
Pence said excluding local road funding was a deliberate decision as he wanted to focus only on state-maintained roads and bridges.
He said he anticipates lawmakers will consider new ways to support local governments when the Legislature convenes in January, though Pence offered no details. He refused to rule out a gas tax hike, but said that would be his last choice.
Reaction to the plan by the governor's Republican Statehouse allies was tepid. Neither House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, nor Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, specifically endorsed the governor's proposal.
In addition, state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, chairman of the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, head of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, both hinted Pence's plan to go into debt to pay for road maintenance is dead on arrival.
"I appreciate the governor's initial recommendations," Soliday said. "I look forward to working with the governor and my legislative colleagues as we find data-driven, mutually agreeable solutions that don't leave our children with enormous debt in the form of decaying infrastructure."
Democrats, meanwhile, blasted Pence for being slow to realize the scope of Indiana's infrastructure woes, and then only proposing a solution designed to help him win a second term next year.
"The sheepish proposal offered today is typical of the way this governor and his brood have handled Indiana's crises: They hear the cries through the wall, read the poll numbers and attempt the bare minimum to make them go away," said House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said the plan is the policy equivalent of "filling potholes," since construction work associated with it won't begin until late 2016 and local governments get nothing.
"It's reassuring that Gov. Pence now acknowledges that Indiana's infrastructure needs attention, but it seems the scope and immediacy of that need continues to elude him," Lanane said.
"For the safety of Hoosier drivers and passengers and for economic growth, the governor is not moving fast enough. The condition of Indiana's roads and bridges requires action now."