Indiana governor doles out cash; polls bring backlash

| 9/18/2006

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels last week distributed $240 million in revenue from the recent lease of the Indiana Toll Road, but a poll shows the lease is unpopular among Hoosiers.

Daniels presented $40 million each to five counties affected by the toll road, while Porter and Lake Counties received $25 million and $15 million, respectively. Counties receiving $40 million were Elkhart, St. Joseph, LaGrange, Steuben and LaPorte.

The revenue is part of a promised payout from Daniels’ controversial “Major Moves” transportation plan, which saw the Indiana Toll Road leased to foreign investors for $3.85 billion for the next 75 years.

In turn, the private investor – ITR Concession Co. consisting of Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia – will operate the 157-mile toll road and keep the toll revenue.

Local governments in the seven counties will decide how their portions of the lease revenue are spent.

“If the people of our toll road counties use this once in a lifetime opportunity wisely, and we do the same statewide, we will leave our kids a dramatically stronger Indiana, led by these seven counties,” Daniels stated in a press release.

Daniels, a Republican, has promised funding to more than 200 transportation projects through “Major Moves.”

But the lease of the Indiana Toll Road has been controversial, particularly on partisan lines.

House Minority Leader Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, has been publicly critical, saying the short-term payouts will be gone in a few years while the foreign investors profit for decades.

“No matter how big these numbers, they cannot overcome the fact that the bulk of the revenue generated by the Indiana Toll Road over the next 75 years will be sent overseas,” Bauer told The Associated Press.

A telephone survey of 800 Indiana residents, conducted by Research 2000 of Maryland for WISH-TV in Indianapolis, showed 55 percent of those asked do not approve of the lease. About 39 percent approve, and 6 percent are not sure.

The survey showed more Republican voters – 46 percent – favored the lease than Democratic voters – 30 percent.

The survey wasn’t the first time Indiana residents have spoken up against the lease.

Back in March, a group of residents including OOIDA Member Randy Nace challenged the constitutionality of “Major Moves,” taking the case all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court before a ruling was handed down in favor of Daniels and the Indiana Finance Authority.