By BRIAN SLODYSKO
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lawmakers on Tuesday criticized Gov. Eric Holcomb’s unilateral proposal to spend $1 billion in proceeds from a renegotiated Indiana Toll Road lease without their oversight.
The Republican governor announced the windfall in September, which will lead to a big increase in toll fees for drivers of large commercial vehicles.
His administration argues that the deal — and the spending — falls well within its legal authority and will go toward road construction and some of Holcomb’s pet projects
But during a meeting of the State Budget Committee, legislators from both parties voiced concern over his handling of the proposal. The committee met on Tuesday ahead of January’s legislative session, in which a new two-year state budget will be written.
State Sen. Ryan Mishler, a Republican, said lawmakers are considering legislation that would prevent a governor from taking similar steps in the future.
“There has to be some legislative oversight,” said Mishler, who leads the Senate Appropriations committee. “We’ll discuss with our colleagues in the House … how we want to handle that billion dollars.”
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Like much of the country, Indiana has struggled to keep up with maintenance on its infrastructure. Last year, Republicans, who control the Statehouse and have reduced taxes on the wealthy in recent years, increased the fuel tax by 10 cents a gallon to help pay for improvements to the state’s roadways.
Holcomb latest proposal will put even more money into infrastructure, which he said is needed to ensure the state is able to compete economically.
Lawmakers, however, were not necessarily upset over how wants to spend the money. Rather, they say they were not told a deal was being drawn up to make Holcomb the sole arbiter deciding what would e done with the $1 billion. They argued that it’s lawmakers’ responsibility, after all, to make appropriations and write the state’s budget.
“We knew nothing. It was just like: ‘Here, thou shalt take this and be glad,'” said Democratic Indianapolis Rep. Greg Porter, who is the ranking minority member on the House’s Ways and Means committee.
Under Holcomb’s plan, $600 million would go toward speeding up the completion of Interstate 69; $190 million would go to projects on U.S. Routes 20, 30 and 31; and $20 million would go toward luring new direct-flight routes to the state. Holcomb also wants to spend $90 million to improve or build hiking and biking trails, and $100 million to provide more access to broadband in rural areas.