By Adam Aasen
Hamilton County’s state legislators came together at a breakfast hosted by OneZone at Conner Prairie March 10 to update the business community on the legislative session.
WTHR reporter Kevin Rader moderated the discussion between state representatives Kathy Richardson, Jerry Torr, Donna Schaibley and Tony Cook and state senators Luke Kenley, John Ruckelshaus, Mike Delph and Jim Merritt. All of them represent portions of Hamilton County.
Two main topics were how a repeal of the Affordable Care Act will affect Indiana’s Medicaid expansion program, HIP 2.0, and the proposed gas tax to fund road improvements statewide.
As for HIP 2.0, the legislators said Indiana is in wait-and-see mode. About 250,000 Hoosiers have coverage through the program, and a proposed replacement for the ACA would slowly phase out matching funds to the state to pay for health care. It could have an impact on the state’s budget, legislators said.
The proposed gas tax would increase the state’s current gas tax from 18 cents to 28 cents. It could also be tied to inflation, which means it could increase every year. There would also be extra fees for vehicle registration and a $150 fee for electric vehicles. The changes are designed to raise an estimated $1.2 billion a year for road upkeep and construction.
“We’ve had no tax increase in this area since 2003, so the tax has actually been a tax cut since the buying power of the 18-cent gas tax has decreased over time,” Kenley said.
Kenley said it’s not a new problem, that it has built over time and over time and needs addressed.
“It’s tough to talk about raising revenues or raising taxes or raising user fees,” Kenley said. “So we need to really come up with a long-term solution to this issue.”
At the forum, Merritt talked about opioid addiction, an issue that’s getting national attention.
“It is affecting 98 percent of the people in this room or more,” he said. “In some cities, it’s exploded, and I saw the opportunity for leadership. Someone in my neighborhood suffered an overdose and passed away, and that kind of hits you in the forehead.”
There also were questions about whether to create a scratch-off lottery ticket to raise money for veterans. Delph said he supports the idea. He said some money could go for care such as hyperbaric oxygen treatments for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“One of the top priorities is to create a separate funding source to fund various programs for our veterans,” he said.