Archive for March, 2006

Governor still taking pot shots

I was not quite sure what to make of Governor Daniels’ comments in this Evansville Courier and Press story on the Toll Road debate:

Daniels, who wore an I-69 pin in his left lapel, said Tuesday he had heard “tales of Democrats with tears in their eyes who would like to have had a chance to vote for (Major Moves).”

The governor said Democrats who dared to support Major Moves faced the prospect of being “last on the parking lot committee.”

I am not even sure what “last on the parking lot committee” means, and I was even more confused by this statement:

“They weren’t against this thing because it wouldn’t work,” Daniels said. “They were against this because it will work.”

I guess he best sums up his feelings here:

“I don’t honestly think these were serious objections (by Democratic legislators),” the governor told the Courier & Press. “They were in a tough spot. Their political leadership had ordered them to stay in line, and they did. They had to find some reasons for it.”

I couldn’t decide whether to get angry at the Governor’s dismissive remarks or simply laugh them off.

The notion that the House Democratic caucus can be “held in line” on anything is definitely amusing. In our caucus meetings people argue, laugh, fret, and even occasionally storm out – but the Golden Rule of the Democratic caucus is that each member should always make their decisions based upon what is best for their district.

The Governor’s implication that my colleagues march to the orders of anyone other than the people who elected them is, frankly, insulting.

But what makes me laugh about this, rather than get angry, is the fact that the people of Indiana have seen through this type of talk. The facts are plain, and the voters know that “Major Moves” is a bad deal for Indiana. The popular outcry has even made national and international news. (The Slate story, Lost Highway: The foolish plan to sell American toll roads to foreign companies, is the latest to discuss the debate in Indiana. [via TDW])

In the end, I take comfort in the fact that I and the rest of the House Democratic caucus voted the way our constituents wanted us to vote – and the Governor knows it.

Add comment March 31st, 2006

Toll Road hearings… after the fact

The Indiana Finance Authority and the Indiana Department of Transportation are holding public hearings in St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties on the lease of the Indiana Toll Road and the rate increases associated with the lease.

Unfortunately, these hearings are taking place after the Governor has already signed the legislation into law.

St. Joseph County residents are understandably peeved that they are only now being asked to provide their input.

Actually, the hearings are required by state law, and I doubt they would be occuring at all if they were not statutory mandates.

For local coverage of the hearings and public sentiment, check out the stories below:

After fact, state sets Toll Road hearings - South Bend Tribune
Lease critics in a late stand - South Bend Tribune
Hearing Allows Many to Vent About Toll Road Lease - WSBT-TV (with video)
People Speak Out At Toll Road Rate Hearing - WSBT-TV (with video)
Major Moves faces lawsuit - WNDU-TV (with video) - with a focus on the threated lawsuit against the deal
Lease could end up in court - FOX28-TV - more on the possible lawsuit

Finally, the South Bend Tribune editorial, Too little time, too little thought, offers a critique on the Legislature’s handling of the Toll Road lease as well as HB 1279, the telecommunications bill (roll call).

Update: The South Bend Tribune story on this afternoon’s hearing contains some strong opinions from local residents:

… the“Toll Road lease scheme is destined to be seen as the greatest example of malfeasance and betrayal of the public trust ever perpetrated on the citizens of this state.”

…the “criminal actions” of Daniels and his “political running dogs” are motivated solely by “self-aggrandizement and greed” and are in “direct contravention of the will of the people and the welfare of the state.”

1 comment March 23rd, 2006

Reflecting on the merits of the “short” session

The “short” legislative session has come to an end for the year. Over the coming weeks I will go over some of the session highlights and lowlights.

Last week I had the opportunity to discuss the merits and drawbacks of the compressed schedule of the short session as a guest on the television show Indiana Lawmakers.

The 30-minute show is available to watch online here. (until Monday, when it will be replaced with the next episode)

Among the topics covered was the possibility of allowing standing committees to meet over the summer to give more consideration to complicated policy issues, encourage more citizen input in the legislative process, and conduct more legislative oversight of the executive branch.

I previously suggested making such a change back in December on this site.

If you have the time to watch the program, feel free to leave a comment or let me know what you think.

Add comment March 16th, 2006

Send-off for our retiring colleagues

Last night, both the House Democratic Caucus and the House Republican Caucus hosted dinners honoring their retiring members.

The Democrats gathered at Iaria’s, a small Italian restaurant on the near east side of Indianapolis, to pay tribute to Representatives Ben GiaQuinta (Fort Wayne), John Aguilera (East Chicago), and Tom Kromkowski (South Bend).

Representative GiaQuinta, a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, was accompanied by his son, Mark, and his wife, Helen.

giaquinta

Representative Aguilera, who was joined by his wife, is the only Hispanic member of the House of Representatives. John is leaving the Legislature, but I imagine he will stay involved in public service back in Lake County.

aguilera

Finally, Representative Kromkowski is retiring after 25 years of service in the House of Representatives. The long-time UAW member is possibly the longest-serving member of the House Labor Committee.

kromkowski

It was good getting everyone together to wish our friends the best in their retirement. I know we will all definitely miss their experience and the unique perspectives they have brought to the General Assembly.

iarias dinner

Add comment March 14th, 2006

Last day of session is deadline for Major Moves

Proponents of the Governor’s plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road often say Northern Indiana residents should support the plan because it could allow for the construction of an upgraded US 31 from South Bend to Indianapolis.

However, there is no plan in place to build a new US 31 – the Governor already canceled the few construction plans that existed, and now there are only vague promises.

How vague? Take this Senator’s suggestion on how to show progress on US 31 if Major Moves passes the Legislature:

“…[T]o show there is a positive side of all this thing. We’ve got to have some groundbreaking somewhere.”

He suggested the state could start on U.S. 31.

“I told them to go up there and dump a truckload of sand and take a bulldozer and shove it this way today and shove it back that way tomorrow,” Meeks said. “Do something, at least, that will be showin’ them that we’re doing some work.”

The final vote on HB 1008 – the authorizing legislation for major Moves must take place by midnight tonight. A draft “compromise” version of a conference committee report that I have read does little to change the bill, and takes out many of the amendments that were originally passed by the House. The main points I noticed were:

- An extra $10 million to each Toll Road county
- The option for LaPorte County to join the Lake/Porter RDA (in exchange for less money)
- Removal of the toll-freeze language (discount for I-PASS users)
- Removal of any north-east or north-central RDA
- I-69 as a toll road from Evansville to Martinsville, but no tolls from Martinsville to Indianapolis
- Possibly the ability for INDOT to give large chunks of land at I-69 interchanges to any future leaseholder

Of course, the final version of the conference committee report could still change at any point today.

Add comment March 14th, 2006

Northern Indiana in major opposition to Major Moves

Masson’s Blog recently had a post on a WNDU story that examined constituent surveys in Northern Indiana that showed overwhelming opposition to the Governor’s proposed lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

Many State Senators and State Representatives send out annual constituent surveys to sound out feelings on issues that might come before the Legislature.

I find that sending out my annual survey is a good opportunity to get feedback on general policy topics, and to help spot areas of consensus or contention on specific proposals. My survey also allows room for constituents to communicate their thoughts on other issues not on the list that might be of interest or concern.

The story noted that Senator John Broden (D – SouthBend) reported 93% of his constituents opposed the Toll Road plan, and a Republican Senator from Bremen (I assume that was Senator Ryan Mishler) showed 85% opposition.

My own results are similar. Out of 815 responses (received between December 1, 2005 and March 1, 2006), 85% of my constituents are opposed to the Toll Road plan.

major moves graph

There are few issues capable of uniting so many people in such strong opposition.

It should be noted that that a constituent survey is not a scientific opinion poll. The respondents are self-selecting, which can skew results. However, it is definitely a good indicator of how the public feels about an issue. I imagine a properly conducted poll would show similar results.

For today’s latest Toll Road/Major Moves developments, Masson’s Blog also has a good roundup here.

Add comment March 9th, 2006

Conference Committees are underway

In the final week of session, legislators are focused on the conference committee process. Conference committees are comprised of both House and Senate members that meet to resolve differences in bills that have passed both chambers, but in different versions.

For instance, yesterday the conference committee on HB 1010, the eminent domain bill, met to resolve differences between versions of the legislation that passed the House and the Senate. I am one of four conferees that have been appointed to the committee (there are also seven non-voting “advisor” members). All four Conferees must sign the final conference report before it can be sent back to each chamber for final approval.

Below is a picture taken as the meeting adjourned yesterday afternoon.

eminent domain conference committee

In the case of HB 1010, the meeting went smoothly, and few changes were needed to reach a consensus. The report with the amended bill was circulated to the conferees this morning, and once all four signatures have been collected, the bill will be ready for its final vote.

Conference committees can be very contentious at times, but since both chambers and the Governor’s office are all controlled by the same party this year, there has not been much conflict or need for compromise. This is because the Majority in each chamber appoints the conference committee members. If a minority party conferee refuses to sign a report, they can simply be replaced with a more cooperative participant by the Speaker of the House or the Senate Majority Leader.

The last day of session is only one week away, so conference committees are busily trying to finish their work. The most interesting conference report will definitely be for HB 1008 - the “Major Moves” legislation. That committee met for the first time yesterday, and has not yet come to any agreement.

5 comments March 8th, 2006

Questions remain unanswered on Toll Road plan

South Bend Tribune columnist Jack Colwell had an excellent piece in this Sunday’s paper on the Governor’s Major Moves proposal to lease the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years. It was entitled, Any way but the Governor’s way is for losers:

The governor has ballyhooed the deal to lease the Toll Road to private investors for seven and a half decades as “the jobs plan of a generation.”

Follow his way or you’re against jobs.

Follow his way or you’re against progress.

Follow his way or you’re against the future.

All of you people who have expressed concerns about the Toll Road deal should be ashamed of yourselves. You must be against jobs, progress and the future.

The governor also has changed that familiar “my way” saying to: “My way or no highway.”

In an Elkhart appearance, he threatened that failure to award the rights to operate the Toll Road to that Spanish-Australian consortium for an up-front $3.85 billion would doom his highway program, and improvement of U.S. 31 would be “the first to go.”

Really? Couldn’t it at least be the second to go?

His way or no highway.

Colwell discusses how the Governor and his supporters dismiss legitimate questions about the plan as mere xenophobia, but still refuse to address the real concerns:

Concern is over who will be paying the huge increases in tolls.

Concern is over whether the big hikes for trucks will hurt development of warehousing and distribution centers along the Toll Rod corridor.

Concern is over whether trucks will seek to avoid the higher tolls by traveling on alternative state roads.

Concern is over where the up-front money will be spent.

Concern is over how the road will be maintained for 75 years. Always by diligent private operators or at some point by Enron-type operators?

Concern is over having no revenue from the Toll Road for 75 years after that initial payment.

Concern is over the future and whether the deal could come to be regarded by future generations as about as one-sided as the sale of Manhattan Island, with this time the seller getting “the beads plan of a generation.”

Concern is over revisionist history, with the Toll Road, such a successful venture, portrayed as a loser. Lease supporters even have spread the misinformation that the bonds for building the road still haven’t been paid off. They were paid off long ago. New bonds were issued to finance tremendous economic developments through additional interchanges and infrastructure improvements.

Perhaps the privatization the governor seeks will turn out to bring everything from Ohio River bridges in the south to an interstate-quality U.S. 31 in the north, with a billion dollars for Indianapolis in between. And jobs, jobs, jobs, with prosperity and progress.

There’s another familiar saying: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Update: TDW has put together a similar analysis here.

Add comment March 8th, 2006

Senate passes Major Moves

The Senate has just voted to pass HB 1008, the “Major Moves” legislation that includes the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

senate 1008

The 29-20 vote was not along strict party lines - at least one Democrat supported the bill, and several Republicans opposed it. The House was on a lunch break at the time, so I was able to watch some of the closing debate and the final vote.

During the day, House members can keep tabs on Senate action by watching the online video feed from their desk. Here is a picture from my seat today as I was able to listen to debate in the House, read bills online, and keep the Senate debate on my computer screen.

desk

Add comment March 2nd, 2006


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