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EYE ON THE PIE: Good ideas merit communication

February 13, 2006

Finally, the Daniels administration is getting around to explaining the tollroad-leasing proposal. On Feb. 3, it released Volume 1, Issue 1, of "Major Moves Help Desk," a newsletter to tell its side of the complicated toll-roadleasing story. Perhaps a newsletter is pretentious, but it is a move in the right direction.

The idea of leasing the toll road is an attractive one, but I have felt in the dark about why this lease and its many details are best for the state. The process seemed like an avalanche, with bids coming in suddenly, a winner being declared, and legislation rushed through the House of Representatives before anyone had a chance to grasp the details, let alone the overall significance.

Is this a good deal for Indiana? The fact that a New York firm advising that state endorses the toll road proposal does not mean anything to me. I've seen those companies give their clients the answers they want. Ethics are not always linked to economic analysis.

Nonetheless, I have come to believe this is a good deal for the state. That conclusion is based on conversations with people I respect and statements from those whose integrity I have no reason to doubt.

I still do not know as much as I want to know about the Major Moves program, but a part of that is my fault. I have not read everything available on the subject. I'm like most folks-I'm lazy and do not go digging into the state's Web site to get the details. I depend on newspaper reports and what I hear verbally or read through emails from others who are interested in the project.

The arguments against the toll road lease and the Major Moves initiative make little sense to me. They are based on fear and are designed to stimulate anxiety. They pose "what if" cases without pointing to actual deficiencies in the lease contract. This is a technique often relied upon by those who hold inferior ground. When you cannot prove shortcomings, suggest that they might exist.

Recently, a friend suggested that we will not need Major Moves and new highway construction in Indiana because gasoline-powered vehicles are going to go the way of the horse and buggy. Part of this is probably true, but we will have new energy sources replacing gasoline. The flexibility and other advantages of automobiles and trucks will not be undone. We will not see a return to railroads and mass transit as we had in the past.

The arguments for issuing bonds vs. leasing have not been convincing. The claim that we will be giving control to "foreign" powers is downright stupid. Anyway, our House of Representatives has taken care of this by endorsing an amendment that requires flying the American flag at all toll booths.

This administration has many interesting ideas. Closing redundant offices of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles is a great idea, but a public relations disaster. Good government involves more than good ideas; it requires that the public understand the reasoning and significance of proposed actions before those actions are put into effect.

One of Gov. Daniels' first actions was to kill off the state employees' union. This was done with the stroke of a pen, without any public discussion. Was it appropriate? Perhaps, but how do we know? Public discussion can often derail good ideas, but it is a necessary part of democratic institutions.

Let's hope that, as this administration moves through its second year, it learns to communicate better and to trust Hoosiers to understand what is being proposed and done.



Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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