News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 22, 2006

Pete Chalos: State has moved too quickly on Major Moves initiative


The reason the government builds fire stations, roads, sidewalks and parks is to accommodate the general public. No single private citizen can afford to build all of these facilities on his own so we all chip in and pay taxes. As a result, we all end up benefiting from the use of the facilities. Government facilities are built for the public and they belong to the public. That’s the basic premise of a tax-supported Democratic society. Government by the people and for the people.

The citizens who pay for government facilities retain ownership. Our elected officials are hired by the public to manage our holdings. No elected official has carte blanch to do whatever he feels is best with our property. Our officials are merely elected to represent us, not to act as independent owners of our property. For an elected official to sell or lease our property out from under us to a foreign company is an outrage. It’s not his property to sell.

The Indianapolis Star recently published the results of a poll on public support for the governor’s Major Moves plan. Public support for the plan was minimal, about 30 percent. The governor is pushing his plan through in spite of the wishes of the citizens of Indiana. My Monarch Mitch doesn’t care what we have to say about it.

The governor says he can make a profit off of our roads by selling them to foreign investors. Nobody asked him to make a profit; we elected him to manage the roads and keep them maintained to the best of his ability. What good is making a one-time profit on the lease of the property going to do us if our toll roads are falling apart for the next 75 years?

No foreign company has an obligation or the motivation to maintain our roads up to the standards we expect from our own government. Foreign companies don’t come up for re-election. Foreign companies don’t respond to public petitions or complaints. We can look forward to 75 years of speaking to automated operators over the phone when we want to report a chuckhole.

Under the governor’s plan, northern Indiana toll roads are going to be sold to an Australian-Spanish consortium for a one-time sum of $3.8 billion. That’s $1.4 billion less than what he originally promised we’d be getting but it still seems like a lot of money. It seems like a lot of money until you consider the alternative plan the Democrats in the House have proposed.

Under the governor’s plan, the foreign company would be allowed to raise tolls numerous times throughout the 75 year lease without public hearings. The Democrats propose instead that the governor himself double the tolls once, raising the revenue to $160 million each year for the state of Indiana. Within 20 years he could bond the increase for $1 billion and utilize a GARVEE bond for another $1 billion. The state would then retain the remaining 55 years of revenue from the toll roads. At $160 million a year, that 55-year revenue comes to $8.8 billion. The total for 75 years comes to about $10.8 billion. That’s $7 billion more than Indiana would make using the Major Moves plan. The governor’s plan doesn’t seem to be the best plan on the table. He must not be interested in making the most profit for Indiana citizens.

Aiming Higher Inc., a non-profit group run by former Daniels campaign manager Bill Oesterie, is not subject to state campaign finance laws or limitations. Over $300,000 has been raised during this legislative session to pay for television ads supporting the governor’s Major Moves plan. The majority of this money has been contributed by engineering firms and construction contractors. This company has raised over $1.2 million since November of 2004 to be used in support of the governor’s agendas.

The governor has stated that he plans to use the $3.8 billion to finance 200 road projects over the next 10 years. How are we going to pay for improvements in the 65 years following those 10 years during which we will receive no revenue from the toll roads? He’s not worried about it because 10 years from now the governor and all his buddies will be retired. The engineers and contractors will have made a lot of money on the 200 projects the governor has planned for the next 10 years. The governor will have reaped their financial and political support and used it to seek greener pastures.

Ten years from now, the Australian-Spanish consortium will have made enough money to cut and run, in which case Indiana’s citizens will be left with an empty bank account and possibly years of maintenance to catch up on. If the Australian-Spanish consortium does stick to the lease for the full 75 years, Indiana is still left with no source of revenue to use for projects during the final 65 years of the lease.

Indiana is moving too fast on the Major Moves project. It should be examined more carefully. Another name for a major move is a leap. Always look before you leap.

Pete Chalos, a longtime teacher, coach and public servant in Vigo County, was mayor of Terre Haute for 16 years. Send e-mail to pchalos@netscape.com.