In addition to generating nearly $4 billion in cash for the state, our transaction committed the road’s operators to an additional $4.4 billion in improvements to the road itself. It now has electronic tolling, new lanes to reduce congestion, 25 additional state troopers and other enhancements that have brought it to the best condition and service levels in its history.
Bingaman (D) labels our action “short-term expediency.” False again. Every penny of the bonanza we reaped goes into long-term investments in new capital projects. Not a cent went to current operations; we balanced Indiana’s budget, cut taxes, built a sizable surplus and achieved a AAA credit rating through old-fashioned frugality.
After paying off the debt Indiana incurred to build the toll road, we protected the rest of the deal’s proceeds for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. The reverse of a “seller,” Indiana became a buyer — of billions of dollars of new long-term public assets, the kind the senator lamented that our nation needs. We also set aside half a billion dollars in a permanent Next Generation Trust Fund, interest from which will augment future highway budgets as needs require.
The senator’s broadside is based on the premise that the federal government is “paying twice” the Indiana Toll Road, once to build it and again through federal dollars used for its maintenance. In fact, no federal dollars built the road. Indiana borrowed money to construct it, and tolls paid for the principal and interest. By the senator’s illogic, Indiana should have been sending the federal government a bill every year for creating an interstate without a dollar of federal gas tax funds.
Nor have federal taxes paid for maintenance. Toll revenue, not federal dollars, has funded maintenance, although poorly. Before our lease was finalized in 2006, the toll road was in substandard condition. After 50 years, it still had a large debt and was losing money. That’s what you get when politicians run an enterprise as a patronage operation.
Indiana is midway through a decade of record-breaking road and bridge building, by far the biggest boom in our history and anywhere in America currently. A side benefit of acting when we did has been tremendous savings in time and money, as a starved construction industry bids aggressively for the work in our state. Every major project of the more than 200 our lease made possible has been completed ahead of schedule and far under budget; Indiana journalists have had to adjust to the term “government underrun.”