Posts filed under 'Transportation'

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

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

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

Macquarie on the Toll Road

An interesting source of information on the proposed lease of the Indiana Toll Road can be found on the website for the Macquarie Infrastructure Group (Macquarie and Cintra are the consortium whose bid was selected by the Governor).

Macquarie’s announcement of their selection as “preferred bidder” states:

“The Indiana Toll Road will be an attractive addition to the MIG portfolio of roads businesses. Significantly, it has a long operating history with solid prospects for revenue growth over the 75 year concession. Traffic has grown over 3.9% per annum since opening. In addition, an attractive toll schedule has been set in place until 2010 after which tolls will increase at the greater of 2 per cent, CPI and nominal GDP per capita growth.

“This acquisition will increase the average concession term, internal rate of return and equity risk premium of the MIG portfolio,“ Mr Allen said.

The press release contains a link to a presentation (pdf 1.8 MB) and a conference call (mp3 1.9 MB) that accompanies the slides.

There is some interesting information contained in the document, including specifics on the economic performance of the road. While the Governor continues to claim that the Toll Road “loses money,” Macquarie shows a net profitability of over $60 million a year.

performance

The slides also clearly indicate the projected increase in toll rates – especially increasing after 2010.

tolling

In the conference call, the Toll Road is described as “an attractive asset at an attractive price.” The audio is 30 minutes long, but worth the time if you are interested in the Toll Road proposal.

1 comment February 20th, 2006

Toll Road lease full of holes

toll roadYesterday, the South Bend Tribune printed a guest column I wrote regarding my concern with provisions in the proposed contract to lease the Indiana Toll Road:

Contract to lease the Indiana Toll Road is full of holes
MICHIANA POINT OF VIEW
STATE REP. RYAN DVORAK

Governor Daniels’ plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road as part of his “Major Moves” road funding proposal has been greeted with a great deal of public concern. Many of my constituents have expressed their disapproval of the idea, and have asked for the details to be explained more clearly.

After dealing with the plan in the Legislature, I also have serious concerns. Now that we have been able to read the Toll Road contract, many potential problems have become obvious.

First, one section of the contract specifically refers to the deal as a “sale.” This designation is necessary for Cintra-Maquarie* to take advantage of tax breaks they will receive as part of the deal. Cintra-Maquarie is the Spanish/Australian financial consortium that has bid to operate the Toll Road. No one knows how much these breaks will cost taxpayers in the end.

Second, the Governor has stated that Cintra-Maquarie will be required to spend $4.4 billion in maintenance over the course of the 75-year contract. That is not true. The contract says that Cintra-Maquarie is responsible for maintenance, but nowhere is the $4.4 billion figure mentioned. In fact, no dollar amount is set forth in the contract.

Third, the Governor has stated that the operator will be held to strict maintenance standards, and even the amount of time in which a dead squirrel must be removed is spelled out. But that is not true either. The contract does spell out criteria for maintenance, but there are no provisions for monitoring maintenance quality, and no penalties for failing to meet the standards.

Fourth, the Governor has stated that he personally put a provision in the contract that would require a 90% “Buy Indiana” guarantee from the operator. But that is also not true. The contract only refers to a 90% Buy Indiana “goal” on the part of the operator. There is no provision for monitoring that goal, and no penalties for non-compliance.

The financial payout from the contract is $3.8 billion dollars. That is unquestionably a huge sum of money. However, it needs to be weighed against the potential revenue the Toll Road could generate over the course of 75 years.

The Governor has already committed to doubling tolls – whether or not the contract is signed. That means the annual income from tolls will be about $160 million.

The contract allows the operator independently to increase tolls even further every year. Assuming a potential annual increase of 5% - which is allowable under the contract – the Toll Road would generate $121 billion over the course of the 75-year deal.

That means we are being asked to sell $121 billion over the long term for $3.8 billion up front.

The problem is, we have no objective way to determine if that is even close to a good deal. Cintra-Maquarie has spent months analyzing their proposal. They have had teams of accountants and actuaries poring over the Toll Road and our financial records. They know that they will be getting a good deal.

Indiana has paid at least $20 million to Goldman Sachs to serve as “advisors” in this process, and millions more to out-of-state law firms. Unfortunately, whatever recommendations or analysis the Governor received is unavailable to the public. It is even unavailable to the legislators who have been asked to vote on the legislation.

The legislation itself is another problem all together. HB 1008 not only allows the Governor broad authority to sell the Toll Road, but also to potentially create new private toll roads all across the state.

The public and the Legislature have only had a few weeks to examine this proposal, and almost no access to any of the financial information.

In Harris County Texas, the local government there is considering a similar privatization plan for their roads. However, that one county alone has set aside a million dollars and six months for a public study of the proposal.

Indiana residents deserve the same level of transparency, and the same financial responsibility.

Most people would agree that raising money for infrastructure improvements is critically important for our state. However, we should also be able to agree that such a long-term, potentially risky program deserves more scrutiny.

* “Cintra-Maquarie” is spelled correctly here - it was misspelled in the Tribune.

3 comments February 16th, 2006

Déjà vu all over again

If you get the chance, take a minute to read Governor Daniels’ statement on the acceptance of Cintra-Maquerie’s bid to buy the Indiana Toll Road. Putting aside the substance of his remarks, the Governor’s exuberant tone and use of superlative is interesting:

After closing, we will deposit this astonishing sum, equaling more than a decade of new construction funding at the current level, into a new trust fund, to be invested as fast as legally and humanly possible in the biggest building program in state history. The Hoosier Heartland Corridor, a non-stop US 31, new Ohio River bridges, I-69, the Fort to Port highway, the Gary-Chicago Airport, and hundreds more projects will all change overnight from wishes to certainties. The money will be in the bank. At last, we can stop dreaming and start digging…

Today marks an extraordinary moment in state history. A breakthrough like this may come but once in a public service lifetime…

That speech reminded me of a much earlier period in Indiana history about which I recently read in the book, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly¹. The book notes the dawn of a long-past era that began with a similar tone:

In March, 1827, Congress donated land (to Indiana) for a road from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River…

The gift led Governor James Brown Ray to try to inspire the 11th General Assembly with a sense of the momentousness of the opportunity. Ray… estimated the total worth of the land grant at $1.8 million. He told lawmakers in his message to the 1827-1828 session that not for another fifty years, “perhaps never,” would Indiana have such a chance to construct internal improvements on a scale capable of producing “a revenue that shall relieve our fellow citizens from taxation…” Lawmakers, sure to be interested in any scheme with such magical properties as to make taxes obsolete, accepted the grants… and committed to building the road…

According to the history, the General Assembly then helpfully proceeded with “three years of bitter debate,” which, of course, bled over into the political arena:

While no majority could be achieved regarding specifics until 1832, there was near unanimity that internal improvement projects should be undertaken. The mood that gripped citizens and politicians was reflected in a couplet used by the successful candidate for a House seat from Franklin County in 1828:

If internal improvements you’d wish to go on
You’ll be safe in electing old Daniel St. John.

Unfortunately, despite the bold plans and campaign promises, the “improvements mania” era did not end well for Indiana:

…Speaker of the House Samuel Judah delivered the System’s epitaph in 1841: “Here then is the end of our golden dreams. Here the consummation of all those visionary schemes… developed in the Wabash and Erie Canal, expanded in the system of 1836, and… terminated in bankruptcy, dishonor, and disgrace.

Historical perspective can always be helpful when considering the issues of the present day.

The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly is no longer in print, but my wonderful wife managed to track down a copy for me as a gift. I am not finished reading it yet, but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Indiana history.

¹Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 28-35.

2 comments February 8th, 2006

More Toll Road talk on TV

steve heimI had the opportunity to appear with my fellow blogger State Representative Steve Heim (R-Culver) on the television show “Politically Speaking” this past Sunday.

The WNIT show is hosted by veteran South Bend Tribune columnist Jack Colwell, who spent all of Sunday’s episode discussing the “Major Moves” transportation plan with us.

Representative Heim and I disagree on the merits of the proposal, but I was glad to have a spirited discussion, and I think we both enjoyed the experience.

heim and dvorak

Meanwhile, the South Bend Tribune continues to weigh in on the controversial proposal:

It is hard to understand state Rep. Jackie Walorski’s explanation for why St. Joseph County was left out of the economic development area created by her amendment to House Bill 1008.

The Lakeville Republican blamed county officials for failing to engage her in discussions about joining an economic development area. County officials countered that there was no development area to discuss until Walorski introduced her amendment…

We continue to believe that authorization to lease the Toll Road should not be passed in this General Assembly session. More time is needed to properly understand this proposal. Walorski, who represents a portion of St. Joseph County in addition to a portion of Elkhart County, first had vowed that she would not vote for HB 1008. She was right to oppose the measure. But then she announced that she had changed her mind. We are sure that a great deal of pressure was applied in order to persuade her to vote for giving the governor authority to lease the Toll Road.

While the exclusion of St. Joseph County from an effort to make the switch more palatable was bad, one thing would be worse: leaving St. Joseph County out of the final version of the Toll Road bill.

Add comment February 7th, 2006

First half of session comes to a close

Thursday night was the deadline for final passage of House bills.

The next step in the legislative process is for Senate bills to be assigned to House committees, and House bills to be assigned to Senate committees.

Each chamber can choose to amend, pass or simply disregard the other chamber’s legislation. Typically, many bills are modified from their original form, and many never receive a hearing in the other chamber. Very few bills will move through the process unchanged.

The bill moving to the Senate with the most financial impact on our state is HB 1008, the authorizing legislation for the Governor’s “Major Moves” plan to sell the Indiana Toll Road, build the new I-69 as a private toll road, and authorization for even more as-yet-unknown privatization projects.

The House floor debate on the measure was said to be one of the longest in decades. However, the four hours spent on Wednesday was not nearly enough time.

As pointed out by the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, not even the bill’s author knows all the potential implications of the proposal:

Borror had trouble answering some of the questions during the debate and at one point had to concede he hadn’t read the entire operator’s contract.

I will provide a more detailed examination of the Toll Road contract and the authorizing legislation in a few days. Until then, you can read the latest news on the issue at www.tollroadforsale.com.

Add comment February 3rd, 2006

Hundreds of amendments under consideration

Yesterday was a marathon of second reading amendments in the House. With over 170 amendments on the calendar, the House convened at 10am and, aside from a short lunch break, stayed in session until almost 11pm.

Bills and amendments eligible for consideration are distributed to Members in their mailboxes just off the floor of the House. Below is a picture of a stack of just some of the amendments and bills that were on the calendar for Monday.

amendments in box

The deadline for filing amendments is just two hours before session convenes. So many amendments were being distributed after session had begun. This is one of the problems with the compressed schedule of the “short” session. Digesting all of the provisions in the amendments is a time consuming task, and the individual caucuses usually must recess for up to several hours just to be able to go over all of the provisions before we vote on them.

pizzaAround 7pm, we were able to take a twenty minute dinner break to line up for pizza that was brought in and stacked along the back of the chamber.

The calendar for today is at least as long as yesterday’s, and the Speaker has said we will move on to bills eligible for third reading (final passage) if we finish all of the amendments. So another late night is likely.

One of the most important provisions under consideration will be HB 1008, the Governor’s “Major Moves” plan (which I have discussed earlier here and here). Almost 40 amendments have already been filed for that bill alone. One of those is a controversial amendment that seeks to establish a “Regional Development Authority” in northern Indiana that would exclude St. Joseph County:

“My hope was when I read it, there was a misprint. I really couldn’t believe one could be proposed without St. Joseph County being part of it,” said Mark Egan of the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce.

You can watch or listen to the Legislature over the internet while we are in session here.

3 comments January 31st, 2006

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