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Friedman’s toll road idea was ‘lead balloon’ of 2015

January 16, 2016

Shaw Friedman has once again attempted to attack the state’s most successful public initiative in recent memory, the 2006 lease of the Indiana Toll Road [Pence lets ideology block opportunity, Jan. 4].

That transaction, praised nationally and internationally, converted a shoddy, debt-ridden, money-losing highway into billions of dollars of investment in long-delayed projects to build and rebuild Indiana’s infrastructure.

Hoosiers continue to benefit from more than 200 new projects, including economic game-changers like the Hoosier Heartland Corridor, the Fort to Port Highway, U.S. 31 from South Bend to Indianapolis, two new Ohio River bridges, I-69 to Evansville, and more. The biggest building program in the nation rebuilt 1,400 of the state’s bridges and resurfaced 480 miles of the state’s road miles—all without a penny of new taxes or borrowing.

Indiana received a dramatically better toll road—free of debt after half a century, with electronic tolling, 25 additional state troopers, and billions of dollars in new investment, all required under the terms of the lease.

The deal was so good for the state that the original investors, having overpaid, had to take a large financial haircut and reorganize in bankruptcy. The architects of the lease had foreseen this possibility and planned for it. As Friedman says, the terms said that, in such an event, the state “could reclaim the road.” That’s true, but why would we? The financial loss was entirely on the banks and investors. The state kept all its money, and operationally, absolutely nothing changed.

Friedman is a lawyer whose success has been based on partisan Democratic politics. For decades, his income has derived from political patronage assignments as a party official and as attorney for various local government entities controlled by his political allies.

It appears he has never forgiven those who devised the Indiana Toll Road lease for shrinking his political playpen.

The lease took the road, its contracts and employees out of patronage politics. Friedman’s crackpot proposal to take the road back into political control by him and his political cronies was the lead balloon of 2015, easily the worst of all options.

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Sen. Brandt Hershman
Buck Creek
 

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