INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana Senate panel cut in half Thursday the amount that would be freed up for new road construction under a plan being pushed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously in favor of letting the State Budget Agency decide whether $200 million should be released for the expansion of Indiana's major highways, including Interstate 65, Interstate 69 and Interstate 70.
Pence and House Republicans have been seeking the release of $400 million that had been socked away in a transportation trust fund this year for the projects. But Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who established the trust fund expressed concern earlier in the session about the lack of details on how the money would be used.
"The House is suggesting we release all this, and (the Indiana Department of Transportation) has this list of projects," Kenley said Thursday. "We have an amendment that allows some of that to occur. But we're a little concerned that we did a set-aside and tried to plan for the future and we're right back to next year and going ahead to spend the money."
The panel also struck roughly $25 million that would go for local roads.
The debate comes as the state continues looking for ways to shore up its transportation spending. Lawmaker shuffled money in the budget last year to pay for more local roads support and the long-term construction fund Pence would like to tap. But the state is still facing a drop-off in gas tax collections, which has lawmakers pondering other ways to make up the lost tax collections in the future.
The state has also spent or already planned for the vast majority of the $3.8 billion gained by the 75-year leasing of the Indiana Toll Road. But most discussions are being postponed during lawmakers' abbreviated session this year.
Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said the governor was encouraged the Senate panel's vote will allow the debate to continue.
"Governor Pence is encouraged by the passing of a key agenda item out of Senate Appropriations and looks forward to continuing to work with the House and Senate to ensure that we have the best tools and infrastructure to enhance Indiana's position as an economic engine," Brooks said in an emailed statement.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday that legislative budget leaders are continuing their regular meetings with Pence and his staff to hammer out a compromise measure before lawmakers finish their work next month.