Toll Road Tales: Good News for Taxpayers, Motorists

TReactions were varied recently when the company operating the Indiana Toll Road filed for bankruptcy. A researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School emphasizes the positive aspects of how that deal was structured and focuses on the continually evolving role of each party in such an agreement. Governing reports:

n 2005, two companies came together to form the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. (ITRCC), which won the right to operate the toll road in exchange for a $3.8 billion up-front payment. The deal limited how much tolls could rise and included a trigger requiring the consortium to expand the roadway if certain congestion benchmarks were reached. The $3.8 billion threw off about $250 million that was used to fund other state transportation priorities.

Like so many other enterprises, ITRCC was done in by the Great Recession. Its financing structure called for large debt payments at the end of the first decade, which proved overwhelming in the face of revenues that didn’t meet projections when the downturn hit and traffic volume fell.

But what’s reassuring is that motorists will see no interruption in service or toll increases as a result of the bankruptcy. The roadway is still subject to the same performance metrics, and there will be no taxpayer bailout. State officials will first try to find a new operator to take on the remainder of the concession deal. If that doesn’t work out, the ITRCC will likely be recapitalized with an altered debt schedule.

In either case, customers will retain the benefits from the $458 million ITRCC has invested since 2006 in road, bridge and pavement improvements and a new electronic tolling system.

While it appears that the Indiana Toll Road deal has succeeded at protecting taxpayers and motorists, that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from the bankruptcy. To maintain a true public-private partnership, governments might want to avoid taking the entire concession payment up front.

Chicago completed a similar deal just before the Indiana Toll Road agreement and couldn’t resist the temptation to use the upfront windfall to plug other holes in the city budget instead of using interest from the concession payment to maintain transportation infrastructure. More recently, public-private partnerships for Virginia’s Pocahontas 895 parkway and Colorado’s Northwest Parkway featured smaller upfront payments but give taxpayers a cut of the ongoing toll revenue.

Throwback Thursday: What Decides a Legislator’s Vote?

In the today’s look back, we feature an Indiana Chamber-produced cartoon from 1954 titled, “What Factors Decide a Legislator’s Vote?”

It’s a good question, even today. Here are the influencing factors it lists as possibilities:

  • Conscience: What are the facts? What’s right? What’s wrong?
  • Affected by : (A) Personal background and experiences; (B) Knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the facts
  • The Party “Line”: Party caucus decisions and party discipline
  • “Lobbies”
  • Opinions of the folks “back home”: (A) Whose judgment the legislator respects and/or (B) Who he believes can help him be re-elected

While these are all pretty much the same conditions as today, we’d likely change the reference to legislators from “he” to “he/she” considering state government is no longer just a “boys club.” In fact, you can see that topic addressed in this old Throwback Thursday post.

Throwback Thursday: Our Government Book, Then and Now!

Many students are familiar with our book, Here Is Your Indiana Government. Used in classrooms throughout the state at many levels, this publication outlines the functions of Indiana state agencies, as well as our political and legislative structures. The book also includes many historical facts about our state and people.

What many may not know is that we've been printing this book since 1942. So here's a photo of the new edition (which just arrived today), and the 1951-52 version!

Chamber Scores Hoosier Legislators on 2013 Voting Records

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce handed out scores today to all 150 state legislators for their voting records on pro-economy, pro-jobs legislation during the 2013 General Assembly. The numbers, released in the organization’s annual Legislative Vote Analysis, also contain a two-year total for each legislator.

The 2013 scores range from 44% to 100%. House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-District 88 of Indianapolis), who votes at his discretion and therefore was scored on fewer bills, was the lone perfect mark. The highest full-time voting record for 2013 was Rep. Ed Clere (R-District 72 of New Albany) at 97%. The top senator was Joe Zakas (R-District 11 of Granger) at 87%. Last year, there were 15 legislators with 100%.

The reason for the slightly lower vote scores overall is the type of public policies on the docket, observes Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.

“The issues in 2013 were more complex and less partisan in nature. Two examples involved the Common Core academic standards and the ratepayer protection for the Rockport synthetic natural gas plant. Both were highly complicated – containing various provisions – and had significant supporters and opponents in both parties. This could very well be a sign of things to come.”

All scores and the full report are available at the Indiana Chamber’s web site at www.indianachamber.com/lva.

Brinegar also points out that the Senate scores, on average, were notably lower than in recent years. “That happened because the Senate watered down several crucial bills or simply refused to move other pro-jobs bills altogether.

“What’s more, the gap between the top (87%) and bottom (60%) scores in the Senate was closer this year, as Democrat scores increased overall while Republicans went down,” he notes.

“All in all, however, it was another successful session for Hoosier businesses and their workers. Legislators, for the most part, voted to grow jobs and move our state forward – and the results show it.”

A total of 19 legislators also received a star designation for their significant efforts on issues deemed of critical importance or their overall leadership. Among them: Speaker Bosma and first-term House Minority Leader Scott Pelath (D-District 9 of Michigan City) who together championed the Indiana Career Council legislation.

Says Brinegar of Pelath: “He brought a breath of fresh air to the House and it was noticeable. From our perspective, things were much more focused on policy issues than political issues.”

New this year in the vote descriptions is a 2025 icon next to those bills that directly reflect the goals contained in the Indiana Chamber’s long-term economic development plan, Indiana Vision 2025.

“We do the Legislative Vote Analysis to keep Hoosier employers and citizens informed about what’s going on at the Indiana Statehouse and how their legislators are voting on issues vital to Indiana’s economic future. This report makes it clear which legislators support pro-job growth and pro-business issues, and which legislators do not,” Brinegar explains.

Legislators who score 70% or greater for the most recent two-year voting period are eligible for endorsement by the Indiana Chamber’s political action committee, Indiana Business for Responsive Government.

Bills used in the report were selected based on their significant impact to the state’s economic climate and workforce. Lawmakers are notified of the Indiana Chamber position and reasoning on these bills through various communications during the legislative session – and prior to key votes being taken. Only floor votes for which there is a public record are used in the Legislative Vote Analysis.

Copies of the Legislative Vote Analysis report are sent to all legislators and Indiana Chamber board members, and made available online for all businesspersons, community leaders and citizens.

This marks the 29th year the Indiana Chamber has measured state legislators’ voting performance on bills that reflect the organization’s public policy positions.

VIDEO: Pres. Brinegar Wraps up the 2013 Legislative Session

Chamber President Kevin Brinegar offers a two-minute wrap-up of the 2013 legislative session. Highlighting his review are thoughts on the new budget, tax relief and critical education and workforce development issues.

When the Going Gets Tough … Take a Vacation

Congressional Quarterly, in its daily update last Friday, described what is next for Congress:

The House "is done for the next 10 days," having voted to take the next week off (Democrats, to their credit, wanted to cancel the recess for more budget talks). The Senate's "President's Day recess has begun; the next session where something might get done (emphasis added) starts at 2 on Monday, Feb. 25."

Ron Fournier is a veteran political journalist, having worked at The Associated Press in two stints (among other stops) before joining the National Journal. I've always respected his writing.

A short but powerful take from Fournier on the current state of Congress:

The amount of unfinished business is stunning: A vacancy atop the Pentagon’s chain of command, billions of dollars of haphazard budget cuts due soon to take effect, immigration reform, gun control, climate change, and millions of jobless Americans. So what’s a Congress to do?

Take a vacation.

In Washington, it is politely called a 10-day “recess.” Lawmakers explain how hard they work at town halls and fundraisers back home. But their job is to legislate and to fix problems.

If you took 10 days off with critical work undone and deadlines threatening, how would your boss respond?

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IndianaNet and New Legislative Products to Keep You Informed

The Indiana Chamber provides its members and the business community an invaluable daily presence at the Indiana Statehouse. It also offers tools and resources that allow you to stay updated on legislators and Indiana General Assembly activities.

As always, the Chamber also offers the IndianaNet online subscription service, which provides regulatory information, legislative bill tracking, research and customizable reporting. IndianaNet maintains the documents and votes to all introduced bills and resolutions as well as maintaining regulatory information and much more.

For decades, the Chamber has published the Indiana General Assembly Legislative Directory, which includes legislator biographies, photos, committee assignments and much more. The handbook also provides contact information, including social media profiles, and a map showing where each legislator will be seated in the House and Senate chambers.

In addition to the handbook, the new Indiana Legislative Directory App will provide all of the same information in a mobile format. The interactive version will complement the printed guide, with additional real-time features (committee schedules, bills authored by each legislator and more) and updates available through the app. 

Also new for 2013 is the Legislative District Poster Set. The wall-size, color posters (one each for the House and Senate) will identify all 150 members of the General Assembly and the new districts in which they are serving. With 29 newcomers, 25 in the House and four in the Senate, the posters will be a valuable guide to the Legislature.

"All three products will really help anyone interested in  following the Statehouse and what goes on in our government," offers Glenn Harkness, Indiana Chamber technical marketing director. "There are a lot of new faces, a lot of new assignments, and it’s important to know who’s who and what they will be doing."

The directory handbooks start at $7 (bulk discount pricing is available). Poster sets are $29.97 (which includes tax and shipping) and the mobile app is $19.99. Pre-order or inquire (we’re not yet taking orders for the app, but you can notify our customer service team to request more information) online or by calling Nick at (800) 824-6885. The Legislative Directory app is in production and will be available shortly.

The Mona Lisa, The Scream, The Tom Vilsack: All Pricy Pieces of Art

Nice article here by The Washington Times showing what some could argue is government excess by the Obama and Bush administrations. I think it’s certainly worthy to keep funding portraits of Presidents and Vice Presidents for history’s sake. However, does every cabinet official need a portrait at these costs? I get that women in future generations shouldn’t be deprived of John Ashcroft’s rugged good looks — or songbird voice, for that matter — but is this necessary?

The Environmental Protection Agency spent nearly $40,000 on a portrait of Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, while a painting of Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley will cost $41,200, according to federal purchasing records. The price tag for a 3-by-4-foot oil portrait of Agriculture Department Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack: $22,500.

All told, the government has paid out at least $180,000 for official portraits since last year, according to a review by The Washington Times of spending records at federal agencies and military offices across government.

Painting people high up in all branches of the federal government is a long-held tradition for Republicans and Democrats alike in Washington. Taxpayers picked up the tab for official portraits of top appointees in the Bush administration, too, including more than $40,000 spent on a painting of former Attorney General John Ashcroft, records show.

A portrait of former EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, another Bush appointee, cost about $30,000, according to EPA records.

Like most other agencies, USDA officials wouldn’t say one way or another whether the $22,500 it’s spending to commission a portrait of Mr. Vilsack signals his intent to leave the Obama administration.

“Consistent with previous administrations, the department has commissioned a portrait to be unveiled at some point following Secretary Vilsack’s tenure,” USDA spokesman Justin DeJong wrote in an email to The Times. “USDA solicited bids for the portrait and selected the lowest of five bids.”

In April, Mr. Vilsack hosted the unveiling of a portrait of former Bush USDA Secretary Ed Schaefer, a painting that cost $30,500, while the portrait of another former Bush USDA chief, Michael Johanns, cost $34,425, records show.

Ann Fader, president of Portrait Consultants in Washington, which represents portrait artists, said that because of policy, she could not discuss any specific government commissions. But she said some agencies start the search for an artist long before secretaries leave because paintings can take from eight to 14 months to complete and frame.

“These are done for future generations to see how we live now, and it’s really a tribute as well as part of a person’s legacy,” she said.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to paint a portrait of somebody as accomplished as these people,” she said, adding that agencies have made a “concerted effort to be cost conscious” over the past few years.

Not everyone agrees.

David Williams, president of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a watchdog group, questioned whether the government ought to be spending tens of thousands of dollars for oil paintings of Cabinet secretaries often outside the public’s view.

“It’s not like people are going to be lining up for an exhibit, ‘HUD Secretaries Through the Years,’” Mr. Williams said. “And just because it’s a Washington tradition doesn’t mean they have to keep doing it.”

Two New Legislative Products to Keep You Informed

Your Indiana Chamber investment provides you with an invaluable daily presence at the Indiana Statehouse. It also offers tools and resources that allow you to stay updated on legislators and Indiana General Assembly activities.

For decades, the Chamber has published the Indiana General Assembly Legislative Directory, which includes legislator biographies, photos, committee assignments and much more. The handbook also provides contact information, including social media profiles, and a map showing where each legislator will be seated in the House and Senate chambers.

In addition to the handbook, the new Indiana Legislative Directory App will provide all of the same information in a mobile format. The interactive version will complement the printed guide, with additional real-time features (committee schedules, bills authored by each legislator and more) and updates available through the app. 

Also new for 2013 is the Legislative District Poster Set. The wall-size, color posters (one each for the House and Senate) will identify all 150 members of the General Assembly and the new districts in which they are serving. With 29 newcomers, 25 in the House and four in the Senate, the posters will be a valuable guide to the Legislature.

"All three products will really help anyone interested in  following the Statehouse and what goes on in our government," offers Glenn Harkness, Indiana Chamber technical marketing director. "There are a lot of new faces, a lot of new assignments, and it’s important to know who’s who and what they will be doing."

The directory handbooks start at $7 (bulk discount pricing is available). Poster sets are $29.97 (which includes tax and shipping) and the mobile app is $19.99. Pre-order or inquire (we’re not yet taking orders for the app, but you can notify our customer service team to request more information) online or by calling Nick at (800) 824-6885. Poster sets are expected to ship in early December with the Legislative Directory and the app available near the beginning of the 2013 session.