Indiana bills would limit privatization

| 1/12/2007

Democrats in the Indiana General Assembly upset about Gov. Mitch Daniels' deal from a year ago to lease the Indiana Toll Road are readying legislation to boost oversight of the privatization process.

Three legislators have introduced bills that would create added hurdles or restrictions on the governor or any state agency looking to hire private groups to do work that displaces state employees.

The efforts are in response to the $3.8 billion, 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian consortium - Cintra and Macquarie Infrastructure Group. With Daniels' backing, the Republican-led statehouse squeaked through a bill through that authorized the lease deal.

Now, Daniels is looking into other possible lease deals including allowing a private group to build and operate a toll route around a large portion of Indianapolis. The proposed 75-mile route would connect Interstate 69 northeast of the city with Interstate 70 to the southwest, The Associated Press reported.

The state would get money upfront and use it to help build the planned extension of I-69 through southern Indiana. It would be a toll-free route.

In hopes of making it more difficult for the governor to sign lease deals with groups, one bill would create a 15-member committee to review privatization proposals of more than $15 million before they could be implemented. The panel would be made up of lawmakers and representatives from labor, business and higher education. Public hearings would be held to gather input and make recommendations on final approval to the governor.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Mincon, D-West Lafayette, the bill also would limit the length of privatization contracts to make sure they don't exceed the governor's term of office.

"In the rush to put these contracts in place, I think we can get too enamored at the large dollar figures begin thrown around, and not examine the long-term implications of what is being done here," Mincon said in a written statement. "There is a human cost to this effort, and we want to make sure that part of the equation gets a full hearing."

In addition, the bill would require state agencies looking to privatize a program to prepare a plan that would include estimates on the cost savings that would result as well as the effect on state workers.

Another privatization review measure would require the state to prove cost savings in any privatization plan in which state employees would lose their jobs.

Sponsored by Rep. Mae Dickinson, D-Indianapolis, the bill also would allow state employees to offer a competing bid. The bid must be accepted if it's lower than the current cost of operations.

Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, has offered a separate bill that would require agencies pursuing privatization deals to publish plans that include details about the potential cost savings, and the impact on state employees and state assets.

Mincon's bill is HB1062. Dickinson's bill is HB1045. Lanane's bill is SB53. They all are in committee.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor