Prediction: Roads, education will get attention

Posted: Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Polk and Saunders

New Castle Community Schools board member Nan Polk, left, is pictured speaking with state representative Tom Saunders Monday at a meeting of local elected officials hosted by the New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corporation at Primo in downtown New Castle.

Roads and education are likely to be two of the major issues addressed in the 2016 Indiana General Assembly, according to two area lawmakers.

The New Castle-Henry County Economic Development Corporation hosted a meeting of nearly 60 local elected officials Monday evening. They received an advanced look at what will likely be the hot topics of debate in next year’s General Assembly, starting in January.

The gathering took place at Primo in downtown New Castle and featured comments from state Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg), who represents the 42nd District, and state Rep. Tom Saunders (R-Lewisville), who represents District 54.

Leising said the state’s infrastructure and education will likely be two topics lawmakers address. Noting that local roads can’t be left out of the mix, Leising said she has heard from several people who favor expanding I-70 and I-65 from four to six lanes.

“That idea is fine, but the truth is many of us who represent rural counties understand that it’s hard with roads that are deteriorating if we don’t get local road money,” Leising said. “I’m hoping that we figure out, hopefully sometime soon, how we’re going to be able to put more money into infrastructure. … If we want to see six lanes on our interstates and more funding for local roads we are going to have to bring in more money.”

As well as roads, Leising said she is hopeful legislators come up with a way to help expand the state’s broadband access so residents of rural areas can enjoy the same benefits from high speed Internet service that residents of larger urban areas do.

The senator also said K-12 education is sure to be a topic of debate when lawmakers reconvene. Conceding that funding for education is tight, she said the money involved with public schools isn’t her only concern.

“Whether you’re a grandma, a mom, a teacher, everybody thinks testing has gone overboard,” she said. “It’s time to address this issue. … People are really fed up and I’ll be shocked if there isn’t something done to try to solve this problem.”

One other issue Leising said needs to be considered by state lawmakers is mental health and treatment options available to Hoosiers.

“We have an obligation to start serving that population group and to do a better job,” Leising said.

Saunders concurred that roads and education, particularly the state’s shortage of teachers, will be hot topics and said he agreed with most of what Leising had already said.

“Roads and jobs are always the two issues I hear most about when constituents contact me,” Saunders said. “It’s always been a priority to try to get more money for local roads. How are we going to pay for that?”

Saunders said some of the options discussed in the past for increasing money available for road maintenance include placing a toll on interstates, an additional $100 excise tax on vehicles that would be dedicated to road maintenance, and an additional 1 cent tax per gallon on gasoline sales.

“Before we raise taxes I think we need to take a look at giving some of the state sales tax money back to (local government units),” he said. “But, I think this is the year when we will see additional revenue for local roads.”

During a brief question-and-answer session, New Castle Mayor Greg York asked about the possibility of expanding Ind. 3 to four lanes from Greensburg to New Castle. Leising said she was disappointed this idea hasn’t been made more of a priority by INDOT and suggested local lawmakers contact the governor and INDOT officials about the idea. Saunders agreed expanding Ind. 3 would be good for economic development, adding that more information about traffic patterns on the state highway may be needed to move the idea forward.

Corey Murphy, New Castle-Henry County EDC president and CEO, was happy with the way the evening’s gathering went.

“I thought it was a complete success. We have new elected officials and veteran elected officials here. The idea of this is to build collaboration and relationships and I’m very pleased with the turnout,” he said.

The upcoming session of the Indiana General Assembly starts Jan. 5 and must end by March 14

Persons interested in sharing a concern with Leising may call 1-800-382-9467. Saunders can be contacted at 1-800-382-9841.