The governor would have the sole authority to create toll roads under a bill that has been quietly advancing through the Indiana legislature.
"It's that whole thing about striking while the iron is hot," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Tom Wyss, R-Fort Wayne.
Private companies are "not going to invest a million bucks into a project and then have to wait for the General Assembly to approve it," he said. "They'll go to a state where they can do it (more expediently)."
For a four-year period, the bill would allow the governor and the Indiana Department of Transportation to launch public-private projects, including creating or converting existing highways to toll roads, without the approval of the legislature. Opponents worry it would shut voters out of government deals with private companies.
In public-private road partnerships, companies typically work with government to build or maintain a road in exchange for some benefit, such as toll collection.
The requirement that lawmakers sign off on such projects was a part of Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves package, approved in 2006. The project marked the beginning of the state's use of public-private partnerships to launch major road developments.
The idea of the governor making private highway deals without consulting other elected officials troubles Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, who held hearings on the 2007 Commerce Connector proposal. If Wyss' measure had been in effect at that time, she pointed out, the governor could have simply ignored public opposition.
"This would basically remove any General Assembly oversight whatsoever," Austin said. "He just gets to say, 'I want to do that. This is how I want to do it.' "
...I have written on privatization on numerous occasions. I was a big fan of privatization in the middle 1990s and have read numerous publications about the subject, including the privatization bible Reinventing Government. I took a look back at Reinventing Government the other day and saw that the authors missed completely how privatization would work in practice. Nowhere in the tome did they foresee the impact of long term contracts, campaign contributions, and the revolving door on bringing real market competition to the delivery of services. The authors did not foresee the reluctance of government officials to exercise strong oversight over privatized services. Here Govenor Daniels and Senator Wyss are asking for less government oversight, arguing that private companies don't want to have to deal with government officials questioning their decisions.
It is the market competition which privatization is supposed to bring that leads to better public services and savings for taxpayers. Otherwise it is just government granting a monopoly to a private company.
But let's now focus on privatization as a political issue. Governor Daniels seems to have a tin ear when it comes to the politics of the privatization issue. The fact is the public has overwhelmingly turned against privatization and its cousin public-private partnerships. People don't trust that their politicians are looking out for their best interests when privatizing services. They see politicians as using privatization as a new sort of patronage, a way to generate large campaign contributions from private company seeking contracts.
I was visiting with friends at the Broad Ripple Tavern the other day. The subject came up about the parking meter contract. People were livid at the Mayor for entering into a 50 year contract, giving hundreds of millions of dollars to ACS, which also happens to be a big donor to (chiefly) Republican candidates and also employs the Mayor's chief legal advisor as a lobbyist. If Mayor Ballard thinks that won't be an issue in his re-election campaign he would be sadly mistaken. It will be the No. 1 issue that turns people against the Mayor. For those of you who don't think so, see the comments section of every ACS parking contract article published by the Indianapolis Star. People are furious with the Mayor.
While Democrats too have backed privatization, it is chiefly Republicans driving the bus. It is a bus that is heading off the political cliff. Republicans need to open their eyes.