SPECIAL REPORT: Indiana Toll Road lawsuit heads to Supreme Court

| 6/6/2006

The lawsuit by Indiana residents challenging Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Major Moves" transportation plan has fast-tracked all the way to the state's Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs, fighting against the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road, part of Daniels' 10-year transportation plan to eliminate a funding gap, had filed a notice to appeal on Monday, June 5.

But the action did not stop there.

Daniels' defense team filed a motion the same day to bypass the Indiana Court of Appeals and let the state Supreme Court take up the matter of whether or not the lawsuit is deemed "public" by state statute and whether the plaintiffs would have to post a bond of $1.9 billion to continue the case.

St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis ruled May 26 that the lawsuit was public, that the Indiana Finance Authority was a municipal corporation, and that the plaintiffs would have to post bond.

Lawyers for the state and the governor requested a transfer to the state Supreme Court following the plaintiffs' notice of appeal.

The Supreme Court accepted the transfer and set an expedited schedule. The court will hear oral arguments about the bond on Tuesday, June 13.

"Our attorneys are going to be working around the clock to get their end of it together and prepare for that, and for our part, we're asking folks to help us," said Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition, part of the plaintiffs' faction of Indiana residents.

"Obviously, we've appealed the bond issue here of $1.9 billion, and we hope they rule on the merits of the case as well of the bond issue," Menzer said.

The group of Indiana residents who filed the challenge and the appeal, including Menzer's group, OOIDA member Randy Nace and activist Steve Bonney, told Land Line from day one they expected the case to make it to the Supreme Court.

Grant Smith, executive director of the Citizens Action Coalition, said the plaintiffs are enthusiastic about moving forward.

"We didn't want to drop the case here at this stage," he told "Land Line Now."

"These things are always very difficult," he said "There's a lot of money at stake and a lot of political pressure being exerted. We still strongly feel there is a lot of merit to this case and we'll carry it forward as best we can."

Daniels' "Major Moves" transportation plan includes the $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to the Spanish-Australian consortium of Cintra-Macquarie for 75 years - something the plaintiffs are fighting against.

Daniels and the Indiana Finance Authority - another defendant in the lawsuit - have already earmarked the revenue from the lease deal to go toward 200 road projects to bridge a growing gap in the state's roads budget.

Cintra-Macquarie officials are scheduled to formally ink the deal with Daniels on June 30. A clause in the lease states that the private investor can walk away from the lease if there is pending litigation.

Whereas the state could not turn a profit on the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, Cintra-Macquarie projects up to a 12.5 percent return for their investors.

Cintra-Macquarie is the same foreign consortium that leased the Chicago Skyway in 2005 for $1.83 billion, the first ever privatization of an existing toll road belonging to the U.S. interstate system.

The constitutional challenge is being fought with funding chiefly raised by Indiana residents and the trucking industry, including OOIDA.

To learn more about the challenge to the Major Moves plan that allows the Indiana Toll Road lease, visitmajormoves.orgonline.

- By David Tanner, staff writer