Indiana bicentennial projects face funding shortfall

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Legislators are looking to patch a possible multimillion dollar shortfall for several construction projects to celebrate Indiana's bicentennial of statehood that have been promoted by Gov. Mike Pence.

Pence announced the $53.5 million in projects last year, saying most of the money would come from leasing excess space on the state's 310 cellphone towers. But the Legislative Services Agency now estimates those leases will bring in only $10 million to $12 million over the next 10 years.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley has proposed shifting nearly $24 million in money from the state's tax-amnesty program to the bicentennial projects. That move would still leave at least a $17 million shortfall.

The Pence administration maintains the cellphone towers will produce the money needed to fund the projects.

"We believe that the proceeds from the cell tower lease will more than cover the costs of the bicentennial capital projects," Office of Management and Budget Director Micah Vincent told The Indianapolis Star.

The construction projects include $25 million for a new state archives building in Indianapolis and $24 million for building an inn at Potato Creek State Park near South Bend. Smaller projects are a $2.5 million education center at the State Library and a $2 million Bicentennial Plaza outside the Statehouse.

The proposed additional money for the bicentennial projects is included in a bill that changes how the $169 million that the state collected during last year's amnesty period for delinquent tax payments would be distributed.

Originally, $84 million was earmarked for Pence's Regional Cities economic-development grants program and $6 million was set aside to support Amtrak's Hoosier State rail line. Any excess would have gone to the state's general fund.

Now, Pence wants an additional $42 million for the Regional Cities program. Lawmakers don't have a consensus about whether the bicentennial projects should receive some of the remaining money.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said questions remain about whether the cellphone tower leases will cover the bicentennial projects.

"I think initially there wasn't probably as much competitive nature as (the Pence administration) initially thought there might be," he said.

The state agency handling the effort to lease the cellphone towers said it is in negotiations with several companies.

"These type of transactions usually require longer lead time to revenue generation due to the legal structure that has to be in place to make it a long-term success," Indiana Finance Authority director Dan Huge said in a written statement.

In the meantime, the Potato Creek State Park inn project is on hold. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources didn't receive any proposals from private developers, leaving the state to design and build the project itself.

"DNR remains interested in having a lodge at Potato Creek State Park," said Phil Bloom, a department spokesman. "However, design work, groundbreaking and so on will not begin until funding is in place for the project."

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