04/11/11 Now that the Legislature is back in full swing, it’s time to catch up on some things you might have missed the past few weeks.
We are in the final month of the 2011 legislative session. There is no reason why we cannot get our work done by our April 29 deadline. Determining the quality of that work is another issue entirely.
Consider Senate Bill 473, just passed by the House Roads and Transportation Committee.
If this bill is allowed to become law, the governor would have the sole authority to decide whether to allow tolls on new roads being built – like the Interstate 69 extension between Indianapolis and Evansville – or roads scheduled for major improvements.
Right now, the Legislature has the ability to review and approve infrastructure projects that are intended to be built through what is called a public-private partnership (P3). A P3 allows the state to share the costs of building or maintaining a road or bridge with the private sector. In turn, the private entity gets the chance to derive some benefit for its participation, usually by charging a toll to users.
This legislative oversight ensures that you have a voice in determining whether to allow tolls on P3 projects.
If SB 473 becomes law, the governor will be the only person to decide whether any road or bridge built under a P3 should be tolled. There would be limited legislative and public review, but the governor would be free to ignore that review and proceed how he sees fit.
This power would extend beyond new construction. Think of a major improvement to any well-traveled highway in Indiana – ones that runs north-south like U.S. 31 and U.S. 421 or east-west like U.S. 30 – and SB 473 opens up the chance that you could pay a toll to drive on it someday, and there isn’t much you could do to stop it.
I am the ranking Democrat on the Roads and Transportation and I was amazed to see the majority on that committee amend SB 473 to give this power to the governor forever. I’ll keep trying to bring some sanity to this bill as it reaches the full House in the days ahead.
Supporters of the change to give all this power to the governor said they didn’t want any kind of legislative oversight on any proposal to toll a road. It is hard to understand that line of thought, since it completely bypasses input from the people of Indiana who will ultimately pay the freight by forking over their money for tolls. Talk about taxation without representation.
But this kind of buck-passing is becoming all too typical from those who lead this Legislature. They seem far too willing to pass over their responsibilities to this governor.
Look at our new state budget, which passed out of the House last week and is presently being debated in the Indiana Senate.
In the past, debate on a budget enabled lawmakers to define priorities on funding state government.
In 2011, representatives spent less than an hour on House Bill 1001 before sending it to the Senate on a party-line vote.
Part of this was because the House majority’s version of the budget was so bad that it could not be redeemed by any number of amendments. We hope the Senate can do better.
But part of it was because this governor has taken the decision-making on a state budget out of the Legislature’s hands. He and his appointees in the State Budget Agency have made it clear that they do not care about any budget priorities set by the members of the Indiana House and Senate. They will do what they like and they are accountable to no one.
In previous reports, I have mentioned past results of their handiwork: demanding $600 million in cuts from our schools, raiding funds dedicated for one purpose to pay for taxpayer-funded programs of the administration’s own choosing, and picking and choosing which agencies must reduce services and which avoid any cuts entirely.
The common thread is that these decisions are made without seeking any input from the Legislature or the general public. They are not interested in hearing your point of view.
Is this the kind of government you want?
As we go through this session’s final weeks, please continue to stay in touch about the issues that concern you. Here are the best ways to contact me:
Call the toll-free Statehouse telephone number of 1-800-382-9842;
Write to me in care of the Indiana House of Representatives, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204; or
E-mail me at H17@in.gov.