Indiana GOP supports taxpayer funds for private highways

Last month, I noted that taxpayer funds from Indiana were being used to hire a lobbyist for a foreign oil company. Now, the Indiana GOP is again supporting redistributing taxpayer money to private, foreign corporations.

Last week, the Senate finally passed a new transportation bill, called “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century”, or MAP-21. The bill (S.1813) made it through the Senate with strong bipartisan support, and passed by a vote of 74-22.

But there’s one part of the MAP-21 that has drawn the ire of Indiana Republicans: an amendment offered by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), which would remove private highways from the formula used to calculate how much funding states receive. (Bingaman also authored a separate amendment, SA1514, to adjust the tax deductions for long-term leases, specifically citing the case of the Indiana Toll Road.)

Here’s how Bingaman described his amendment in a press release:

A separate Bingaman amendment removes certain privatized highways from consideration in apportioning Federal highway funding among the states. Specifically, the amendment eliminates the lane-miles and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) for any “privatized” toll road as a factor in the formulae used to apportion federal highway funding. The definition of “privatized highways” under the measure includes any formerly publicly operated toll road that has been transferred to a private entity that controls the operation of the highway and ownership of the revenues collected.

When an existing toll road is privatized, all responsibility for maintaining the road, collecting tolls, paying the investors’ profit, and so forth are taken on by the private entity. However, because such a privatized toll road continues to be a factor for federal formula funding for highways, the nation’s highway users and taxpayers are essentially continuing to pay for the road despite the fact that a state has privatized it and no longer has any responsibility for operating or maintaining it. Drivers across the nation shouldn’t be subsidizing any state that has chosen essentially to “sell off” an existing highway to the highest bidder.

Bingaman’s amendment passed narrowly, 50-47. Both of Indiana’s Senators voted against Bingaman’s amendment, and then against the bill itself.

In a statement, Sen. Lugar said:

I opposed the Senate highway bill because the funding mechanisms are unsustainable and Indiana will lose an estimated $117 million under the new highway funding formulas.”

Sen. Coats had offered an amendment that would have changed the way gas tax proceeds are allocated, by pinning it directly to the percentage of gas tax collected instead of actual need. His amendment was soundly defeated, 28-70. After the vote, Coats released this statement:

“I am disappointed the Senate failed to pass my amendment that would have restored equity and provided Indiana its rightful share of the available highway funds,” added Coats. “I cannot support this legislation because it puts Indiana at a disadvantage and spends beyond our nation’s fiscal limits.”

Neither Coats nor Lugar specifically mentioned the Indiana Toll Road, which Mitch Daniels leased to an international consortium for 75 years in 2006. Daniels protested the Bingaman amendment, calling it was a “backwards and senseless proposal”, according to the Indianapolis Star. The brief mention of the amendment in the Star also noted that, “Bingaman’s amendment was opposed by U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. It had the support of the American Trucking Association and AAA.”

Further reading: