By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Critics of reinstating the excise tax surcharge and wheel tax Monday night characterized it as burdensome and implored the Madison County Council to live within the fiscal constraints of this year’s budget.
Supporters of the fees, which are usually lumped together and simply called the wheel tax, say they’re necessary to make sure roads are adequately paved to support business and economic development, self-sufficiency and emergency services.
Public testimony on the plan went back and forth like that for a good two hours Monday as the County Council heard public testimony about the tax. A vote on the measure could come at the regular County Council meeting on May 20.
Alexandria resident Danny Hayes said low wage workers in Madison county can’t afford to pay the tax, and several people testified that large percentages of students in both Elwood and Anderson are eligible for reduced cost school lunches, which means many families already face daily financial hardships.
“People in this county making $10 an hour cannot afford this,” Hayes said.
County resident Bud Riley presented the county with a petition containing the names of 120 people who oppose reinstatement.
Riley said while collecting those names he didn’t ask people about their politics.
“I’m just here to tell you that people in this county do not want this tax,” he said.
“We’ve got to get business back in this town,” countered Micah Mitchell, who supports the wheel tax. “If we don’t take care of our infrastructure, who’s going to?”
The previous council voted to rescind the $25 surcharge and $40 wheel tax on commercial vehicles and large trailers in early April last year over the objection of local government leaders who said they depended on the taxes to pay for road paving and provide matching funds for projects that receive state and federal funding. The taxes were in effect from 2009 to 2012.
Mike Gaskill, a former councilman and one of the principal architects of last year’s repeal, said the budget they crafted actually included more money (about $1.5 million) for road paving and maintenance, as well more than $400,000 for equipment purchases than was included in previous budgets when the tax was in effect.
Anderson resident Joe Carney, however, said the money meant cuts in staff and the elimination of an entire county department.
He called it “voodoo economics,” a reference to George H. W. Bush’s characterization of supply-side economics promoted by President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.
“It was not voodoo economics,” Gaskill said. “It was sound fiscal policy.”
He added that if towns and cities wanted to devote more resources to road maintenance, they could do so by simply adjusting their budget priorities as the county government did.
Meanwhile, John Paugh, the president and CEO of Carter Express, and Steve Austin, the director of government affairs at Red Gold, urged members of the council to exercise restraint with the proposed tax.
Paugh estimated reinstatement of the tax would be a $100,000 hit on company revenue; Austin said Red Gold would have to pay about $20,000 in fees annually, in addition to the $120,000 the company pays in fuel taxes just in Indiana alone.
Paugh said the Anderson-based trucking and logistics company employs more than 1,140 people, of which 780 live in Madison County. He said he chose Anderson because he’s a native, and because of its central location.
“Madison County is a great place to do business if you are a motor carrier,” he said.
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