Governor appoints oversight board for Indiana Toll Road

| 6/8/2006

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in the midst of controversy surrounding the private lease of the Indiana Toll Road, has announced his appointments to a lease-compliance oversight board.

The appointments, like the toll road lease, have drawn fire from critics, mainly Democrats who say the oversight board is “too little too late,” according to the Indianapolis Star. The oversight board was not part of the legislation that provided for the lease of the toll road, but was created by Daniels after a group of Indiana residents filed a constitutional challenge against the deal.

Daniels, according to a press release from his office, has appointed three cabinet members to the board along with four constituents from toll-road counties in the northern part of the state.

Daniels used an executive order to create the committee and appointed his own chief of staff, Earl Goode, as board chairman. He also appointed Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Sharp and Indiana Finance Authority Chairman Charles Schalliol to the board.

Constituent appointees include Aaron Carlberg, director of the Indiana-Kentucky Regional Council of Carpenters; Kevin Kelly, president of Welsh & Kelly Contractors; Leigh Morris, mayor of LaPorte, IN; and Kristin Sine, principal of Hendry Park Elementary School in Angola, IN.

The board’s duties include ensuring a smooth transition for toll-road employees during the changeover from state operation to private management by Cintra-Macquarie, the Spanish-Australian consortium that is scheduled to sign the lease June 30.

A constitutional challenge of Daniels’ “Major Moves” transportation plan has ascended to the Indiana Supreme Court on an appeal of a preliminary motion. There could be a ruling by June 30, if the fast-tracked timeline of the case so far is any indication.

Other duties for the oversight board include providing advice, counsel and reports to the governor and the Indiana Finance Authority relating to the “lease, maintenance, financing, planning tolling, construction and operation of the Indiana Toll Road,” according to the governor’s press release. The first report would be due Oct. 1.

Members will serve two-year terms and can be replaced by the governor.

The Indianapolis Star reported that Carlberg, Kelly and their respective unions have supported Daniels’ political campaign funds in recent years, but added that they have contributed to funds supporting both political parties.

Daniels’ critics say the committee and the toll-road lease go against the constituents.

“The overwhelming majority of Toll Road-area residents were opposed to this,” Indiana Democratic Party Executive Director Mike Edmondson told the Indianapolis Star. “The group clearly does not represent the people of Northern Indiana.”

Lawyers representing the state and the group of residents challenging “Major Moves,” including OOIDA Member Randy Nace and members of the Citizens Action Coalition, are scheduled to appear in the Indiana Supreme Court, Tuesday, June 13, for oral arguments to begin.

Daniels’ “Major Moves” transportation plan includes spending the money from the $3.85 billion private lease of the Indiana Toll Road on 200 road projects around the state.

The plaintiffs believe the Indiana Constitution requires that revenue from the lease go strictly toward paying down public debt.

The defense, upheld by a county judge in May, contends that the lawsuit is “public” and that the Indiana Finance Authority is a “municipal” corporation. The judge ordered the plaintiffs to post a bond of $1.9 billion to continue the legal challenge.

The point of the plaintiffs’ appeal is to overturn St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis’ ruling about the IFA being considered “municipal” and, of course, the bond.

Daniels is preparing to embark on a road campaign on his motorcycle to inform residents of Indiana cities and counties how the money from the lease will be spent in their areas.

– By David Tanner, staff writer