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

Bomb threat instruction card

Evidently in response to the recent “white powder” scare at the Statehouse, the Indiana State Police has distributed “Bomb threat instruction cards” to members and staff of the General Assembly (click to enlarge):

bomb threat card

While the cards are probably a good idea, some Members couldn’t help having some fun with them. The “questions to ask” section conjures up an interesting potential phone conversation, and the choices to pick describing a caller’s characteristics almost invite a game of Mad Libs.

Of course, we all really hope the cards never see any use. However, I really have to wonder what kind of threatening caller will be willing to helpfully provide their name and address…

Add comment February 28th, 2006

Only two weeks to go

There are now officially only two weeks left in the 2006 “short” legislative session. The House is working to finish consideration of Senate bills, and we have been making steady progress. Masson’s Blog has a summary of some of the bills that passed the House on third reading yesterday.

One of the bills that passed was SB 247, the bill I discussed in my last post that establishes the Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center. On second reading for the bill, the House accepted an amendment I drafted that removed some potentially dangerous language. Essentially, as drafted, the Fusion Center could have begun “collecting individual intelligence” on Indiana citizens.

The Indianapolis Star provided some coverage here:

Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend, who successfully amended the bill, said it went too far by allowing the state to collect information that could be shared with private organizations without judicial oversight.

After the amendment passed I was able to sit down with the bill’s sponsors, Senator Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne), and Representative Bill Ruppel (R-North Manchester), as well as Eric Dietz, Director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. Together we worked out a way to allow the Fusion Center to share information with other law enforcement agencies, accept public input, and allow warnings to be given to threatened private organizations – all without endangering the privacy of law-abiding citizens.

The result was a third reading amendment that reinstated some of the additional language along with clear definitions and safeguards.

Third reading amendments may be offered just before the bill is up for final passage. They are fairly rare, and require a two-thirds majority for passage. Thanks to the cooperation of all the parties involved – the amendment passed unanimously, and the bill went on to pass overwhelmingly.

News coverage of the legislative session often focuses on the stalemates and conflict that inevitably arise. But much of the behind-the-scenes work is accomplished quietly by Members who are genuinely interested in crafting sound public policy. Most of us get along fairly well, and are able to reach compromises for the sake of good government.

Of course, the last two weeks of session are normally the most contentious. Bills reach their final stages and negotiations can escalate to a fever pitch. I am sure the coming days will be both interesting and intense.

Add comment February 28th, 2006

“Intelligence Fusion Center” amendment

IDHSToday I offered an amendment to SB 247, a bill dealing with various homeland security provisions. The portion of the bill that was problematic was in the section establishing an “Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center.”

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has encouraged states to establish these centers as clearinghouses for the analysis and sharing of data collected by local law enforcement, first responders, and federal agencies.

SB 247, however deviated from the authorizing language that has passed in other states. Specifically, it allowed the fusion center, at the behest of the Governor, to collect “individual intelligence information” on individuals “reasonably” involved with “possible” criminal or terrorist activity.

Further, any information collected by the center could be shared with any “private organization.”

The problem here is that a fusion center is designed to act as an information clearinghouse – a place that can receive reports from various agencies and help connect the dots in the larger homeland security picture. The center is not supposed to be an active intelligence “collection” agency. Collecting “individual intelligence” could mean searches, surveillance, or wiretaps – it is not very clear.

In order to preserve the functionality of the fusion center as an important part of our homeland security apparatus, but remove any potential for warrantless spying on Indiana citizens I offered the following amendment (link to actual amendment, mark-up of what it does below):

Chapter 10. Indiana Intelligence Fusion Center
Sec. 1. The Indiana intelligence fusion center is established to:
(1) collect;
(2) integrate;
(3) evaluate;
(4) analyze;
(5) disseminate; and
(6) maintain;
intelligence information and other information to support law enforcement agencies, other governmental agencies, and private organizations in detecting, preventing, investigating, and responding to criminal and terrorist activity.
Sec. 2. (a) The department shall operate the Indiana intelligence fusion center under the direction of the governor.
(b) The department shall cooperate with:
(1) the state police department; and
(2) upon direction by the governor, any other agency or organization, including an any agency of local, state, or federal government, or a private organization.
Sec. 3. The Indiana intelligence fusion center may collect individual intelligence information only if:
(1) the individual who is the subject of the individual intelligence information reasonably appears to be involved with or have knowledge of possible terrorist or criminal activity; and
(2) the individual intelligence information is relevant to the terrorist or criminal activity.

This amendment removes the possibility of fusion center employees conducting searches or wiretaps on Hoosiers. That type of intelligence collection should be left to prosecutors and state and federal law enforcement agencies that must follow proper statutory procedures and file detailed affidavits to receive judicial search warrants.

The amendment was approved on second reading by a vote of 49-45. I believe this change helps preserve the intent behind the fusion center concept as prescribed by the federal government, while keeping sensitive information in the government’s possession, and removing the potential for any abuse or violation of our constitutional rights.

9 comments February 21st, 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

Upward Bound students visit the Statehouse

Yesterday I was able to host a great group of high school students from South Bend who were visiting the Statehouse.

upward bound

The freshmen and sophomores represented most of our area high schools, and are participating in the University of Notre Dame Upward Bound program:

The program serves all students who meet the first-generation (no one in the immediate family has gone to college) and low-income student in the South Bend community.

Typically, students enter the program in their freshman year of high school and during their three years with the program they participate in the programs’ academic tutoring program and Summer Residential Program where they take college prep courses and live on Notre Dame’s campus for six weeks.

Students travel to visit colleges across the nation and are provided with the necessary resources and information, both educationally and culturally, to be successful in college.

Notre Dame’s participation in Upward Bound dates back to 1966, and has helped to prepare over 5000 students for enrollment in college.

I was able to introduce the students on the floor of the House, and their program director, Alyssia Coates, was given a few minutes to talk about the program to the assembled House members.

If you have a group that is planning on visiting the Statehouse, feel free to let me know if I can help arrange a tour or provide any information.

Add comment February 17th, 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

Scare at the Statehouse

Right now the Statehouse is under some sort of quarantine.

The entire building seems to be shut down because of an unknown powder that was mailed to the Speaker’s office and came in contact with an employee there.

The Indianapolis Star now has a small update here.

From what I can gather, people inside the building aren’t being allowed to leave, and those outside aren’t being allowed in.

Update (1:38pm): People are now being allowed back into the Statehouse.

Update (4:45pm): The Star article has been updated as of 3:00pm to reflect that a second envelope with powder was found in the Statehouse mail system, but it had not been delivered. Test results on both envelopes indicated neither contained any hazardous substances. The rest of the day at the Statehouse has proceeded with business as usual.

I was working in Washington, D.C. for former Congressman Tim Roemer at the time of the anthrax attacks there. Speaking from experience, I can say that having your building shut down, sealed off, and entered by troops of men in bubble suits while you are walking out is not a fun experience. For that matter, neither is process of being tested for anthrax exposure - which involves a very long nasal swab and lots of jabbing.

I am very glad that today’s events were not harmful. However it is worth noting that Indianapolis does have a direct link to the anthrax attacks that followed Spetember 11th. This article talks about anthrax spores that were found at the time at the Indianapolis International Airport, and a postal facility in Idianapolis.

2 comments February 15th, 2006

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