Earlier this week Senator David Long penned an aggressive op-ed that defended the state’s infrastructure and attacked Democrats as do-nothing naysayers. It’s yet another sign that Republicans feel politically vulnerable on the road issue. And, more than anything, it gives us a glimpse at the conundrum Republicans now face.
Long’s fiery opinion piece lauded Major Moves. There’s no doubt that Major Moves injected a great deal of investment in the state’s highway system. What resulted were many more miles of new pavement, but absolutely no strategic plan on how to maintain the existing roads or how to fund future repairs of the new projects. Long called it an “innovative accomplishment,” but in the kindest of terms history will judge Major Moves as a squandered opportunity.
Republicans have exploited Major Moves for more political mileage than they have actual road mileage, but one must wonder if that window is closing. While Republicans still try to ride the policy accomplishments of the last administration, the road ahead promises to be very bumpy as Hoosier motorists and businesses grow frustrated by the lack of forward-looking solutions.
In recent years Republicans have claimed that they’ve invested more than $1 billion in new road funding. True to form, Long did his level best to spin the Republican’s budgetary shell game as a road-friendly approach. Even if we accepted Long’s claim at face value—truly a bridge too far—it still leaves us with the reality that none of the recent investment in road funding is sustainable. In fact, as Indiana faces a road funding shortage of around $1 billion, the state coffers are slated to take in less revenue every single year for the next eight years until the GOP’s slew of tax cuts are fully implemented.
Rest assured, as the pot holes grow bigger, revenue from the corporate income tax, the financial institutions tax, the inheritance tax and other sources will continue to dwindle as we witness Republican pipe dreams become an inescapable reality. At some point, David Long and the statehouse Republicans must be shaken from their slumber and made to realize that the state’s budgetary course cannot be maintained if we are to fix its physical one.
This fact has escaped Mike Pence, as evidenced by his unserious infrastructure proposal a few weeks ago. His $1 billion plan lacked a single cent in new revenue—a typical and expected display of political cowardice in the face of a real and lasting policy challenge. It was a rich dose of irony that Long criticized the Democratic response to the governor’s proposal as even he and his fellow GOP legislators gave it a noticeably chilly reception.
What makes Republicans truly awful leaders is that many of them understand that new revenue will be required to fix some of the state’s sustained challenges; they just lack the political courage to get it done. Perhaps the biggest indicator that Republicans know a tax hike must be part of the road funding solution is a single sentence in Long’s op-ed. At the very end of his scathing diatribe pointed at Democrats, Long asserted that Republicans and Democrats must work together to find solutions to Indiana’s road problem.
This claim, of course, is patently false. With supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, Republicans are capable of passing anything that suits their fancy regardless of where Democrats line up, just like they’ve done time and again. Republicans have pushed through big, sweeping policy changes without regard to—even ridicule of—Democratic opinion, with RFRA being just the latest example of smug GOP leaders turning a deaf ear to the minority party.
Republicans got us into this road mess one boondoggle at a time. Now they want Democrats to help them solve it?