INDIANAPOLIS – In 2006, then Governor Mitch Daniels contracted a 75-year lease for the Indiana Toll Road. That lease spelled out how toll rates could be increased. Now, the Holcomb Administration has negotiated with the private company that manages the Toll Road to allow a significant increase, as much as 35 percent, on large trucks. The company has offered to pay the state $1 Billion in a lease that was decided privately with zero input from the legislature.
I acknowledge that, per statute, legislation gave the Administration the right to amend the lease. However, I do not agree that the Administration was given authority to spend this large sum of money without approval from the legislature and without undergoing our normal budget process. The governor has announced his spending plan with 60 percent of the $1 Billion going toward the completion of I-69. We have already seen the total mess that resulted from the last Toll Road lease that sent money to I-69 through a private-public partnership agreement. The project is past deadline and over budget. Are we really ready to repeat that?
Hoosiers in counties with toll roads who have to live with the pollution and traffic congestion may object to the governor’s proposal to spend that money in other portions of the state for things such as expanding rural broadband and subsidizing new routes for the Indianapolis Airport. Additionally, increasing tolls opens up the very real possibility of trucks bypassing toll roads and congesting side streets, thus causing more wear and tear on those roads and increasing the likelihood of accidents in those areas.
Whatever one’s spending priorities, however, we should all agree that $1 Billion is a large amount of money for the governor to use as he pleases.
The State Budget, as well as the prioritization of spending that goes into those appropriations, is first and foremost the responsibility of the legislature. I, along with my colleagues, will be debating those priorities in January and thoroughly vetting over the course of our four-month session what those needs and priorities should be. The legislature, not the governor, should determine how we spend this $1 Billion windfall.