House Democrats offer lease alternative in Indiana

| 1/27/2006

Indiana House Democrats unveiled an alternative Wednesday, Jan. 25, to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ statewide construction plan dubbed “Major Moves,” suggesting the state could sell $1.6 billion in bonds to avoid leasing the Indiana Toll Road for nearly $4 billion.

Outlined by House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, the proposal would enable the state to pay for road and bridge work throughout the state without handing over proceeds from the 157-mile route to a Spanish-Australian group for the next 75 years.

Democrats said the plan also would ensure that revenue generated by the toll increases would stay in Indiana.

The two-part plan includes using revenue generated from the toll increases already announced by the governor to float $800 million in bonds over the next 20 years. Daniels expects to hike toll fairs 72 percent this year for cars and 120 percent for large trucks by 2010.

The increases could take effect as early as April.

The plan also authorizes using grant-anticipated revenue vehicle bonds, or GARVEE bonds, to generate another $800 million over the next 20 years.

The funding program allows the state to borrow money against the federal transportation dollars that come each year to pay for construction. The sale is based on the assumption that federal funding in future years would pay off the bonds. This allows the state to get money needed up front.

“All of this can be done without the risky business that is so much a part of the governor’s plan,” Bauer said in a written statement.

Bauer said the Democratic proposal would be offered as an amendment to the Republican-led effort – HB1008 – when it comes up for debate on the House floor.

On Monday, Jan. 23, Daniels announced that Cintra-Macquarie put in a $3.85 billion bid to take over the Indiana Toll Road. That would cover a massive $2.8 billion shortfall the state has for funding road and bridge work throughout the state.

The Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee voted 14-10 along party lines Tuesday, Jan. 24, to advance the leasing bill. The measure was sent to the full House for further debate.

In fact, it didn’t take House lawmakers long to start their debate on the bill.

Just before midnight Wednesday, Democrats took the unusual step of requiring a formal vote on whether to accept the legislation from committee. That allowed for a brief debate.

Republicans, who hold a 52-48 majority in the chamber, approved the motion on a 50-46 vote. However, the House still must consider amendments to the bill and take a final vote before the Thursday, Feb. 2, deadline to send the measure to the Senate.

The bill must win legislative approval for the governor to collect the $3.85 billion offer to run and collect tolls on the route.

– Keith Goble, state legislative editor