SPECIAL REPORT: Groups say toll road lease is unconstitutional

| 4/10/2006

The estimated cost to challenge the constitutionality of the Indiana Toll Road lease could approach $200,000, according to leaders of the citizens' groups filing the lawsuit.

Three groups of Indiana residents, one of which is led by Steve Bonney in an Internet and radio campaign, are challenging the Major Moves plan launched by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels - a plan that includes leasing the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years to foreign companies.

The citizen groups needed $40,000 up front to hire attorneys. According to the campaign Web site, www.majormoves.org, that goal has been met.

The three groups are County Under New Terrain (COUNT) - which Bonney leads, Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads (CARR), and the non-profit Citizens Action Coalition, which is the acting financier for the challenge campaign.

Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition said the lawsuit is moving forward and should be filed by April 12 at the latest to meet a state deadline for appeals.

"We're going to be up against some deep pockets," Menzer told "Land Line Now."

"There's a lot of money on the table. They're certainly going to be coming in with attorneys and experts from the other side."

Through private donations from truckers, and a $10,000 pledge from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the group met its initial goal to pay for attorneys to file the lawsuit by Wednesday, which is the deadline to challenge the measure in court.

Menzer said he and his group believe the deal is unconstitutional under Article 10, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution, "which basically says that the sale, or proceeds or net annual income from a public asset must be used to pay down the public debt."

"In this instance," Menzer said, "we're taking something that was paid for by a bond sale and turning it around and leasing it for 75 years - leasing it at a loss over that period of time - to the benefit of this private consortium."

The winning bidder on the toll road lease is a consortium of Macquarie Infrastructure Group from Australia, and Spanish infrastructure giant, Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., a division of Grupo-Ferrovial.

Cintra and Macquarie have partnered to profit from the toll road and offer it as an investment opportunity to their customers.

That jump-started the citizens' groups to try to get the Indiana House and Senate to take a step back.

"For a short-term influx of cash over time, the tax payers are losing out," Menzer said. "People driving across the toll road are going to lose out."

OOIDA, with more than 138,000 members and counting in the small-business world of trucking, has taken a hard line against the toll road lease and the provisions that could raise truck tolls from $14 to $32 by 2009.

"We feel like the citizens of Indiana were basically wronged by this decision on the part of the governor that clearly went against the citizens of Indiana, and what most citizens think would be appropriate in this area," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. "And we certainly do not think that U.S. infrastructure should be put up on the auction block for companies from around the world to bid on."

Even after the lawsuit is filed, the groups intend to continue to campaign for funds, Menzer said.

"The outpouring has just been great from around the country," Menzer said. "We were fighting an uphill battle until this got out national."

OOIDA Life Member Carl Shoemaker, a former Indiana resident living in Tennessee, is adamantly opposed to the toll road lease, saying future toll increases could affect commerce.

"If they get this through, it's going to make the cost of everything go up," Shoemaker said.

Shoemaker personally donated money to the challenge fund when he saw OOIDA make its $10,000 donation.

"We should be able to take care of ourselves and stand on our own two feet," he said. "This is a slap in the face to everybody who pays taxes."

To learn more about the challenge of the Indiana Toll Road lease, log on to www.majormoves.org. You can donate to the cause online or by calling the Citizens Action Coalition at (317) 205-3535 during business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

- by David Tanner, staff writer