Tonight, Valparaiso’s City Council will vote on imposing a proposed wheel tax on vehicles registered in the town. Recently, a few other cities and towns in Northwest Indiana have added wheel taxes, and more are considering it.
The impetus for this issue was the state’s road funding bill signed in March, a provision of which allowed cities with a population of 10,000 or more to impose such taxes on vehicles to fund road repair and maintenance. The state also pledged to match the amount raised by each town or city, setting aside money for such funding.
Valpo’s proposed tax would be $25 per passenger vehicle and $40 per commercial vehicle, and would be collected during BMV registration. That’s an annual fee, by the way.
Usually, roads are funded through gasoline taxes, but raising them at the state or federal level has been received…well, about as well as you’d expect a tax to be. A yearly wheel tax that costs, depending on the vehicle, a little more or a little less than a regular fill-up seems a lot more palatable than paying extra at the pump each time.
So, what’s the downside? Well, less money raised in taxes, naturally, means less money for roads. Even with the state effectively doubling the funds, towns will still come up well short of what's needed to maintain their roads.
A gas tax increase wouldn’t for sure bridge those budget gaps (a proposed federal increase is estimated to only put a small dent in our needs for federal highway repair). But there’s another component of gas taxes: getting people to use less of it. Specifically, to reduce our driving habits and use public transportation, thus lessening the need for road repair (and also, reduce pollution).
But, that angle only works if there’s a public transit infrastructure for commuters to use. In the Region, there’s not much.
So, wheel taxes are what we got. They're not perfect, but they can do some good. If your town doesn’t have one yet, expect to hear more about them from here on out.