What happened to the billion dollars? It certainly is not appropriated in the House Republicans’ budget. Nor is it in any of the agency budget proposals we heard at the beginning of session. The billion dollars is the amount of money that was pledged to the state in exchange for the re-negotiation of the tollway lease this summer, allowing the operator to raise tolls on certain trucks by a whopping 30 percent. With this large increase in truck fees, I find it likely that those of us along the tollway counties will be seeing more of these large trucks on our local roads.
The governor announced his personal plan detailing where he wants to spend this extra revenue: $90 million for trails, $100 million for rural broadband, $190 million for roads in tollway counties, $20 million for subsidized flights and, incredibly, $600 million to complete I-69 ahead of schedule. Currently, we are already spending more than $1.5 billion for I-69, but now the governor wants to spend $600 million more to complete it EARLY.
Here lies the problem: the governor does not get to spend that money. Spending state revenue is the constitutional obligation of the legislature, and the legislature alone. After his spending plan announcement, I thought maybe we would see that money in the governor’s proposed budget. But no. None of that new revenue has been marked for appropriation. This is wrong and totally subverts the legislative budget process.
In addition, these priorities should not be our state priorities. We should not be spending an additional $600 million on I-69. I propose alternatives, and these need to be debated in the Senate. First, we should create a revolving loan fund that would provide money for cities and towns to do local infrastructure improvements, like drinking water, waste water, or storm water. A revolving loan fund, where loans are repaid, would provide a long-lasting source of funding for projects over many years.
We can also establish a grant program, for infrastructure needs of various kinds. These grants would not be repaid, but grants might garner other matching funds. These grants might well fund broadband improvements or trails, as the governor suggests; they might also fund a host of other smaller projects needed across the state.
So what happened to the billion dollars? Although not explicitly appropriated, there is a reference hidden in the House Republicans’ budget proposal. It essentially allows the budget director, under the governor, to transfer that money to whatever agency they want. This is asking the legislature to give away its authority. This is not the way we are supposed to be doing business in Indiana, and the legislature would be foolish if we allow it to happen.