Indiana makes some Major (funding) Moves
By Mike Anderson
No doubt, Becky Skillman has faced more difficult audiences. After all, there’s no need for any politician to convince people who sell and service construction equipment that building new roads is a good thing.
Still, for folks who collectively have weathered the toughest business climate of their lives, the luncheon keynote speaker’s message about what’s happening in her state, Indiana, was particularly appetizing.
The Hoosier State’s Lieutenant Governor, Skillman shared with attendees of the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) Executive Forum in Chicago how, while road work has sputtered in many of their home states, Indiana has plowed right along with Major Moves, the 10-year, multi-billion-dollar program funded by the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road. “It’s all funded with no tax increases, with no borrowing, with no financial smoke and mirrors,” she said, noting the original plan of 104 new highway corridors and 1,600 miles by 2015 has actually accelerated to the point where most projects will be complete in 2012. “And these are not financed on the backs of our children and our grandchildren.
“We have invested more than $5 billion in new construction, just since 2006,” said Lt. Gov. Skillman, “and Indiana has not borrowed any money for roads since 2004.” The latter was one year before the current Indiana gubernatorial team fronted by Gov. Mitch Daniels took over. “When we came to office in 2005,” the AED audience heard from Lt. Gov. Skillman, “you know we faced essentially the same multi-million-dollar construction deficit that many states still face today.” For decades prior, many new roads were promised, but no solid funding stream was in place. Hence, the “bold” idea of a 75-year lease of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, otherwise known as Interstate 80/90 running from the likewise leased Chicago Skyway east to the Ohio border.
“We would just encourage states to be very creative and innovative, and try to become as sufficient as they can without relying too much on Congress,” she later told Better Roads. “It would be very unfortunate if states are prohibited from moving forward with leasing some of their state assets. I think that at a minimum it should be something the citizens should decide . . . and, of course, our citizens did decide that through their elected representatives at the state level.”
Why, she asked rhetorically during the AED address, spend so much political capital on Major Moves? “Well, the fact is we came into office clearly understanding that jobs and the economy were our first priority, and we know that modern infrastructure is key to attracting businesses to our state.”
Toast to that.
“As part of the deal to ensure that we can build roads well into the future, we created the Highway Next Generation Trust Fund,” said Lt. Gov. Skillman. “We set aside $500 million from the proceeds of the lease, and that money including all the interest is untouchable until the beginning of next year. That’s when only the interest will be transferred over to the Highway Construction Fund.”
Noteworthy, too, the number of “shovel-ready” projects un der Major Moves allowed Indiana to become the first state to completely distribute its federal Stimulus transportation funds. “You might say,” said Lt. Gov. Skillman, “that Major Moves was a Stimulus package before that term ever became a dirty word in politics.”v