Indiana’s gas tax hasn’t changed in more than two decades. The most recent time it was raised was in 1993, when it was upped from 9 cents to 18.4 cents. This was only the second increase since 1959, as it was also raised from 4 cents to 9 cents in 1990.
This rate has not kept up with inflation. We did some simple math with the help of the website Measuring Worth, and here’s what we found: A simple purchasing power calculator would say the relative value of 4 cents in 1959 dollars is 33 cents in 2015 dollars. (This answer is obtained by multiplying 4 cents by the percentage increase in the consumer price index from 1959 to 2015.) We would need to double our current rate just to keep with this figure.
This shortfall is significant because, like the rest of the country, Indiana is doing quite poorly when it comes to infrastructure grading. As we pointed out last summer, in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a “D” grade for its infrastructure, while Indiana received a slightly better grade, receiving a “D-plus.”
What’s more, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s own highway commissioner said before resigning that the state needs more than $1 billion in new money each year just to keep its roads in shape, our Statehouse reporter, Maureen Hayden, reported last month. And that’s not counting future endeavors of the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Something must be done — something more than the $800 million, stop-gap plan passed in the last legislative session that pulls money from other places to spend on roads and bridges.
Our gas tax is simply not collecting as much as we once were. The old model is not going to work. Cars are more fuel efficient. People are driving more fuel efficient hybrids and electric vehicles. Fewer people are driving at all.
Perhaps the gas tax should be tied to inflation. Raising the gas tax outright is another possibility. Charging a registration fee based on the number of miles driven is another suggestion. A public information campaign about dedicated funding to road fixes would also be key. (People would be more than willing to plunk down a few more cents per gallon if they knew the intended purpose.)
Whatever happens, the Legislature and Indiana’s next governor need to be proactive, not reactive. We need a long-term solution, not the short-term thinking of Gov. Pence. Let’s maintain our roads in a timely manner. We need income coming in to address maintenance issues on an ongoing basis. It’s not as if we can afford to let the roads we have completely deteriorate.
This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.