SPECIAL REPORT: Nace, Daniels get media ‘face’ time in Indiana

| 5/19/2006

With more than 7,200 members in Indiana alone, OOIDA is having a voice in the state's decision to lease the Indiana Toll Road to foreign private-sector investors. Randy Nace, a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, got a little Q&A time with Gov. Mitch Daniels this week and was interviewed on a local TV station about the toll road lease.

Gov. Daniels, speaking about his transportation initiative, "Major Moves," which includes the toll road lease, wasted no time Wednesday in Delphi, IN, in hanging the lease over the heads of taxpayers.

"This could cost the state of Indiana taxpayers half a million dollars a day if the lease isn't signed on June 30," Daniels told a news conference, speaking about signing over the toll road for 75 years to a foreign consortium, Cintra-Macquarie of Spain and Australia.

"Major Moves" also includes a number of transportation projects, including the fast-tracking Highway 25 near Delphi by at least six years. The Delphi mayor and residents seemed pleased by that announcement.

But it's the "Major Moves" plan itself and the compromises the state is making that has truckers like Nace and many other Hoosiers concerned about the future of the Indiana Toll Road.

"Major Moves" includes the provision to privatize the toll road in exchange for $3.85 billion.

The private consortium would eventually assume control of toll rates, which the lease deal already calls for to be more than doubled for trucks - from $14.85 to $32 - by 2010.

Nace said the state is giving up too much to take the up-front cash, and that's one of the reasons he and other Indiana residents filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of "Major Moves."

"They will have record growth for the first 10 years, or the first five years, and then

for the next 65 to 70 years, you have to see all this money going to a foreign consortium," Nace said in an on-camera interview with WLFI-TV, following Daniels' speech in Delphi.

Daniels' speech came in the middle of a week of oral and written testimony in St. Joseph County Superior Court in South Bend about whether the "Major Moves" lawsuit should be considered "public" by definition - something Daniels and the defense believes should happen because it would hinder the plaintiffs' abilities to litigate.

If Judge Michael Scopelitis concludes that the lawsuit is "public," the state could require the plaintiffs to pay a bond equal to the value of the toll road lease - $3.85 billion - to pursue the challenge.

The court challenge is being backed by the Citizens Action Coalition and funding raised chiefly from truckers and Indiana residents.

"Tolls are going to go up on the Indiana Toll Road, they haven't gone up since 1985," Nace told Land Line. "If we keep the toll road in Indiana, they won't go up as rapidly."

The plaintiffs' attorney, Arend Abel, of the Cohen & Malad law firm, 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.

The governor's "Major Moves" plan calls for the $3.85 billion cash infusion to be earmarked for other road projects, not public debt. It was designed to counter 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