“Basically this whole bill is pork,” says Sen. Bob Meeks, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee in which HB 1008 is being heard. The article on Meeks’ concerns in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette focuses primarily on Meeks’ concerns about the yearly toll (tax) increases authorized for the next 75 years and about the special provision freezing rate increases for residents along the Toll Road for the next 10 years.
The toll (tax) increase is permitted at a minimum of 2% per year. There is an alternate formula based on GDP which will likely allow average increases of 3-4% per year. In 2005, according to Senator Hume, that number would have been a 6.7% increase. That’s a tax increase working like compound interest for the next 75 years.
â€œI have concern about that. You guys donâ€™t drive that road, but I do,â€ Meeks said. â€œGiving them a blank check to raise tolls 25 percent in four years, that gives me some heartburn.â€
But he also acknowledged he canâ€™t change the provision because itâ€™s in the already-negotiated contract, which also allows an annual increase using the same method for the rest of the 75-year lease.
On the subject of the toll (tax) freeze for residential commuters:
Meeks said he will have to remove from the bill a provision freezing tolls for residential commuters along the Toll Road for the next 10 years. It was put in the legislation in the House to garner Republican votes.
But Meeks believes the measure is unconstitutional because it treats drivers of the road differently, including possibly violating the federal Constitutionâ€™s interstate commerce clause.
Instead, he wants to give residential commuters a $300 per year tax credit to offset the increased tolls (taxes) residential commuters will have to pay. Sen. Meeks is also not excited about the pork being doled out to northeast and northwest “regional development authorities”. But all of this pork is necessary to grease the skids to get this 75 year toll (tax) increase locked in and get a pile of money for the short term.
This could be interesting. I only know him by reputation, so I could well be wrong, but I see Sen. Meeks as a good Republican, but not one to compromise easily on his principles and certainly not one to be bullied.
Jennifer Whitson with the Evansville Courier Press also has an article that notes Sen. Meeks reservations. It also has a good question from Senator Kenley that went unanswered by the administration. The bill that will be used to approve the I-80/90 Toll Road lease also has provisions that authorize the Governor to enter into similar arrangements in the future. The Governor has said the only future road privatization he has in mind is the I-69 extension.
But Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, asked administration officials why they need the broad authority to enter into any public-private transportation agreement. He asked why they couldn’t repeat their process for the Indiana Toll Road for I-69 – get an offer and then come to lawmakers with both a bid amount and contract details.
“Though I can understand from a personal standpoint when I’m running a business I want to have personal freedom … to do what I thought was right,” Kenley said. “But since this is all a public situation, why couldn’t the bill just reflect (the Indiana Toll Road lease)?”
Administration officials and the bill’s House sponsor explained the bill’s provisions but did not directly answer Kenley’s question.