Monday, March 13, 2006

Major Deal On Major Moves

Legislative leaders appear to have reached an agreement which might pave the way for passage of Gov. Daniels' Major Moves initiative. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette's Niki Kelly details key provisions of the agreement which include:

  • Additional money from the deal is being offered as an incentive to the toll road counties (e.g., Steuben and LaGrange counties would each receive $40 million up front).
  • A trust fund for future road projects is increased to $500 million.
  • The state will have to shell out $278 million over the next 10 years to act as a quasi-toll freeze for toll road commuters.
  • I-69 will be built as a toll road, but the toll road will only extend from Evansville to Martinsville, unless future legislative approval is provided extending the toll road to Indianapolis.
  • The I-69 route cannot be built through Perry Township without future legislative approval.

With these changes, opponents will pretty much be reduced to arguing that the leasing of the toll road is wrong because 75 years is too long, and the lessee is a foreign-owned company. At least for the next 10 years, local commuters aren't going to be hit with huge toll increases. Instead, the state is giving up money it would have otherwise had for other projects if we're understanding this compromise correctly.

Marion County legislators who oppose running I-69 cutting through Perry Township can vote for the bill's passage knowing that a final decision on the road's exact route has been deferred for another day. The same is true for legislators in neighboring counties to the south who opposed I-69 being made a toll road for their constituents commuting back and forth to Indianapolis.

The pot for the local Toll Road counties just keeps getting bigger and bigger. That's going to increase the pressure on local lawmakers from their local government constituents to sign on to the deal.

Admittedly, though, this deal is not going to turn public opinion around overnight. Legislators are going to have to take a gamble that their constituents' opposition will fade as they get used to the idea that the private management of the toll road isn't going to be such a bad thing afterall, particularly when they see all the benefits coming to their communities. The question is whether that will happen before this fall's election. That may be too big of a gamble for some legislators.

The deal should stop the loss of Republican support for the deal, and if Sen. Earline Rogers' (D-Gary) recently announced support for Major Moves is any indication, there may be some real hope of picking up some more Democrat support to make up for any Republican losses.

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