Politics

Indiana state lawmakers have returned to their districts after adjourning the 2017 General Assembly early Saturday.

The Republican-led legislature met a goal set by GOP leaders to pass an ambitious plan to improve Indiana’s roads and bridges.

Indiana Public Broadcasting Statehouse reporter Brandon Smith said the plan will eventually raise $1.2 billion annually through an increase in the fuel tax and motor vehicle fees.

“It’ll take a little while to get there but eventually, in the next several years, they look to generate about $800-plus million for state roads and bridges and then about $340 million per year for local roads and bridges,” said Smith.

The roads plan is part of a $32 billion budget approved by lawmakers as the session gaveled to a close.

Smith said the plan’s supporters are eager to see infrastructure improvements begin this summer.

“Well, if there’s work being done on the roads, if they can see results in where they live, where they drive, where they go to work, (if) they can see those results soon, then that will help sort of diminish any outrage that might be created by the tax and fee increases,” Smith said.

The budget, which is now before Gov. Eric Holcomb, also creates a new fund with $15 million that he can spend as he sees fit on economic development programs, including his efforts to lure new direct flight routes to Indianapolis airport.

Holcomb also got $5 million to fund the efforts of his newly anointed drug czar Jim McClelland, who is tasked with finding federal funding and grants, as well as developing a strategy to combat the state’s opioid crisis.

The spending plan sets aside $345 million in new money for K-12 education, while increasing higher education spending 1.2 percent in 2018, followed by a 2.5 percent increase in 2019, according to budget summary documents.

It also boosts pay for Indiana State Police, who are underpaid compared to other departments in the state.

Rick Howlett is WFPL's Broadcast Managing Editor and also produces feature and general assignment radio stories.