SPECIAL REPORT: ‘Major’ consequences for Indiana Toll Road challenge

| 5/16/2006

Testifying Monday in the Indiana Toll Road challenge, OOIDA member Randy Nace told the court what truckers fear about the leasing of the toll road to a foreign consortium.

"They're going to have the toll roads jacked up so high, you don't want to use them," Nace told Land Line in a telephone interview after stepping down from the stand in Indiana.

Testimony concluded Monday in the hearing related to the lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Major Moves" transportation plan.

St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis will accept written briefs from the attorneys in the case until Friday, before taking under advisement the question of whether the lawsuit is "public" as defined by state code. If it is, he must also decide whether the plaintiffs will need to come up with a bond to keep the case moving - possibly up to $3.85 billion, the value of the toll road lease.

The group of plaintiffs, backed by the Citizens Action Coalition and funding raised chiefly from truckers and Indiana residents, includes Nace, a resident of Monticello, IN.

"A large company can recuperate their tolls, whereas a small operator can't recoup their tolls," Nace said. "It's a plain loss."

Monday was the second and final day of the hearing on the question currently pending in South Bend, IN, but the plaintiffs' attorney, Arend Abel of Cohen & Malad, has been part of numerous constitutional challenges.

"What made me say yes was a couple of things," Abel told Land Line. "The people who wanted to take this on seemed to have a legitimate issue here."

The challenge is multi-faceted, Abel said, but it's best summed up by provisions in the Indiana State Constitution, which insists revenue from the sale of state assets be used to retire public debt.

In "Major Moves," the plan that could pave the way for the Indiana Toll Road to be leased to private investors, Cintra-Macquarie of Spain and Australia, the $3.85 cash infusion to the state is set to be earmarked for other road projects.

Daniels made this provision to bail out the state's revenue shortfall for transportation projects.

Dave Menzer, an organizer with the Citizens Action Coalition, told Land Line the toll lease is scheduled to be signed by Daniels and the investment consortium on June 30, just one day after the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system established by President Eisenhower.

"I just imagine Eisenhower rolling in his grave if this thing goes through," Menzer said.

There is one thing both sides of the case believe will happen, and that is the court case is likely headed all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court.

"Regardless of what the local judge rules, the other side will appeal," Menzer said.

Steve Bonney of West Lafayette, IN, is a farmer, activist and plaintiff in the case. He might lose some of his land in Green County to a "Major Moves" project funded from the toll road lease.

He testified for the plaintiffs, along with Rep. Winfield Moses, D-Fort Wayne, and economics expert Roger Skerski from Notre Dame University.

Abel said Skerski testified that the toll road could be worth $11 billion in 75 years, and that the Indiana Finance Authority and Gov. Daniels should not accept $3.85 billion for its lease.

The defense called on several witnesses over the course of two court days, namely Indiana Finance Authority Chairman Charles Shalliol and the state's public finance director, Ryan Kitchell.

Judge Scopelitis did not indicate how long he would take to rule, but the governor is trying to make it to the table with Cintra-Macquarie on June 30.

By David Tanner, Land Line staff