EYE ON THE PIE: Major Moves elicits childish behavior

March 6, 2006

There are issues in Indiana other than the toll-road lease and building Interstate 69. Yet some people in the Legislature refuse to relinquish their roles as reactionaries.

Example: Out of their minds with xenophobia (the fear of foreigners) the House insisted that toll booths display American flags. Why not require that all BP (British Petroleum) gas stations fly the American flag? How about giving a loyalty test to Mittal Steel, which owns a big chunk of assets in northwestern Indiana?

Example: One or more Indianapolis legislators are opposed to running I-69 into Indianapolis. Where do they want it to go? The community likely to get the greatest benefit from I-69 is not Bloomington, Washington or Evansville. It is Indianapolis-if the road comes as directly as possible into the city.

I-69 will relieve traffic on already jammed state roads 37 and 67. Developments in southwest Marion and northeast Morgan counties have already destroyed the rural character of those areas. Don't give us the fake argument that I-69 is going to change the quality of life adversely in those places.

In fact, the current plan is inadequate. It takes I-69 from the south up to I-465 when it should go right into downtown Indianapolis. This would be a bold, sensible approach to a decayed section of our capital city. Then, I-69 should proceed to connect directly with the existing route that currently stops on the northeast corner of Interstate 465.

Example: Many legislators want to delay making any decision about I-69 and other roads for another round of studies and hearings. Are they mad? We have spent millions of tax dollars on studies and hearings already. There exists a small group of unrealistic romantics who want to stop road improvements, but the number of supporters is far greater. Go down to Evansville, as I have twice in the past two weeks, and you will not find anyone who says this road is not needed and needed now.

Supporters of I-69 in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Evansville and other places are not as vocal as their rabid opponents. Everyone has had a chance to speak-often. Now is the time to get on with building a road that is already 15 years overdue.

Example: Opponents of the toll-road lease argue that the northern counties are being "ripped off" because some of the funds from the lease will be used for road projects elsewhere in the state. Whoever said the distribution of every dollar in revenue must be matched with its geographic point of origin? We are one state and should allocate funds where they will do the most good.

Example: Some legislators want to give tax credits to residents of counties through which the toll road passes. Selling electronic discount passes for frequent users might make sense, but any other mechanism that does not relate directly to toll road use is foolishness.

Example: Opponents of the 75-year lease for the toll road are raising fears of uncertainty. "We don't know what may happen in that long time span," they whine. Right, but we don't know what may happen in the next 75 months, days or minutes.

We keep asking our leaders to take the long view. We are tired of corporate executives who act as though only the next three months are important. Now when there is a proposal on the table that does take a long view (and passes the risks off to a willing private party), the timid want to shrink back.

The Major Moves proposal put forward by Gov. Mitch Daniels is meeting great opposition, even in his own party, because it was put forward by the governor. Partisan politics and the egos of legislative leaders are at stake here, not the merits of the proposal.

This proposal may not be perfect and, if it can be improved, let us do it. But if our legislators cannot discuss Major Moves in a mature manner, let the voters ferret out the foolish in the coming November election. Indiana can no longer afford a pandering, partisan, procrastinating General Assembly.

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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