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Major disagreement over Major Moves at crackerbarrel

Monday, February 27, 2006

Frank Phillips photo

State representatives Andy Thomas, Clyder Kersey, Vern Tincher and State Sen. Richard Bray report to constituents at the Saturday crackerbarrel in the Jackson Township Firehouse.

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According to anecdotes told at Saturday's Clay County Crackerbarrel political meeting, the people of Indiana are united against leasing the Indiana Toll Road to foreign companies, but the Legislature is split along party lines.

During the question and answer portion of the program, one woman in the audience opposed the lease, saying it would take away jobs now being performed along the Interstate.

Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute) said there are 590 jobs at stake because of the I-80 toll road lease provision of Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves proposal.

Sen. Richard Bray (R-Martinsville) supports the proposal, saying "a few more jobs" may be created as a result of the lease.

"The jobs aren't going away," he said, adding that unions support the governor's plan because it will take union employees to maintain the highway and do other jobs needed along the Interstate that runs near the Michigan's border in northern Indiana.

Bray believes a private company will do a better job maintaining the toll road than the state is doing.

That prompted another attendee, Steve Lamb, to say privatization of the food service at Indiana prisons resulted in less quality rather than better quality food.

"It sure looks like Indiana has a big 'for sale' sign on it," Lamb said.

Rep. Vern Tincher (D-Riley) responded by saying he has eaten at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility. Sen. Bray agreed when he said, "We never determined what kind of meat was served that day."

David Schopmeyer mans a call center at the Statehouse, taking comments from constituents. He said the calls he received were running 150-to-1 against the proposed 75-year lease to an Australian-German company.

But, Rep. Andy Thomas (R-Brazil) also supports the governor's plan.

In a handout titled "This Week IN Session," Thomas wrote, "This is a 10-year, $10.6 billion plan to provide infrastructure investment in Indiana, including building new highways and repairing existing ones. Under the current version, Clay County would receive $290,191.54 each year over the next three years."

Thomas left before the question and answer session began. However, during his presentation at the start of the meeting, Thomas said the state has only two options to continue maintaining the state's roads: accept Gov. Daniels' Major Moves intiative or borrow money and raise the gas tax by 40 cents per gallon, "and that won't happen."

Kersey spoke after Thomas.

HB 1008, the Major Moves bill, sparked a four-hour debate, the longest debate over a single bill Kersey's colleagues could recall, he said. Kersey's mail is running 80 percent against foreign control of American public property, such as the toll road.

One provision of HB 1008 that is causing Kersey "great concern" is a non-compete clause that would penalize the state if traffic chooses to travel nearby U.S. 20 or other roads, 10 miles on each side of the toll road. The provision would allow the foreign companies, Macquarie of Australia and Cintra of Spain, to charge the state for the difference.

Tincher would also like to see the toll road remain under state control.

"I think we should do what Texas did," he said.

Before that state leased a highway to a foreign company, it spent money to hire experts to determine the long-range implications of the contract before signing. Texans wanted to decide what was best for Texas. Tincher thinks Major Moves is moving too quickly for wise decisions to be made on a contract that will obligate Hoosiers for 75 years.

"To do (the contract) in three months is a real concern," he said. "Is it a good deal? I don't really know."

Bray joined Thomas in supporting Major Moves.

"I don't like globalization, but that is history," he said.

British Petroleum is a large investor in Indiana and the state was glad to get the Isuzu plant, he said.

"It's a fact of life," Bray said. "(Globalization) is here. I'm glad to see $3 billion coming into the country, not leaving it."

About 40 people attended the crackerbarrel at the Jackson Township Firehouse Saturday morning.

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