Two reactions to our soon-to-be ex-governor's announcement last week that the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) had approved his new-terrain I-69 route: politically speaking, he's a drowning man wearing concrete shoes, and big frickin' deal.
One reaction to Mayor Mark Kruzan's position that planning Bloomington's future as an Interstate community is responsible leadership. If so, then we should also plan for the closure of Crane because, as one seasoned observer sees it, the odds that the Department of Defense will close the landlocked Navy base are higher than the odds that the Indiana Department of Transportation will come up with $160 million a year to build I-69 - a helluva lot higher.
Put bluntly, Joe Kernan simply cannot overcome growing public awareness and anger at the governmental corruption and bumbling incompetence of Frank O'Bannon and the state Democratic Party these past eight years. I-69 is but one example of why Hoosier voters will throw them out of office this coming November, for better or worse.
In addition to the $30-million-and-counting I-69 taxpayer fleecing on the O'Bannon Party's watch, scandal after scandal erupted in the Family and Social Services administration, where they just couldn't seem to keep their people's hands out of the taxpayer till.
In the Northwest part of the state, the Associated Press reported on February 25 that former State Democratic Party Chair Peter Manous has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors on charges of "offering and accepting kickbacks, criminal conspiracy, making false statements to authorities and falsifying records." Manous was indicted in 1999 for a fraudulent land deal. He served as state Democratic Party chair until February 2003.
Plus, Democrats have had the governor's office for 16 years now and, well, just take a look around. Is anything better than it was 16 years ago, except Bernardin-Lochmueller's bank accounts?
The image of Joe Kernan standing behind a giant I-69 sign in Evansville was rich. The sign looked like a shield of armor. The governor looked as if he was hiding behind it, for good reason.
Kernan journeyed to Evansville to announce that the FHA had issued a "Record of Decision" approving the new-terrain I-69 route that Bayh-O'Bannon Democrats proposed in the late 1980s. For Kernan and the gaggle of INDOT bureaucrats and highway lobbyists who filled the room, the FHA decision was cause for celebration.
But in reality, the ROD announcement was one more piece of evidence that I-69 will never be built. It took INDOT and Bayh/O'Bannon/Kernan Democrats 14 years just to produce a simple study to support their plan (and they had to resort to fraud to do it). Imagine how long it will take them to actually build the damned thing. In a word, never.
"The fact that the federal government OK'd the project doesn't mean anything," Republican Indianapolis State Senator and Finance Committee Chair Lawrence Borst told the Indianapolis Star. "It doesn't mean it's going to be built."
Using INDOT budget figures, Borst has shown that the state, at current funding levels, has roughly $200 million a year for new highway projects, such as new roads, bridges, and highway upgrades. I-69, using INDOT's preposterously lowball estimates, would take $160 million a year, leaving virtually nothing for the entire rest of the state.
As a growing list of State legislators, including Kruzan's hand-picked successor to his District 61 State Representative seat Matt Pierce, have acknowledged, the money simply isn't there. And it never will be there, unless the rest of Indiana is willing to give it all up for Southwest Indiana.
In the Star, Terre Haute Democrat Clyde Kersey summed up the growing political concern statewide about the impact Kernan's I-69 plan will have highway maintenance and improvement projects around the state: "It's my feeling that (I-69) is going to slow down a lot of those projects, that they are not going to be on schedule. Money will be taken from those projects to fund I-69."
The far more significant news events on I-69 in the past few weeks passed almost unnoticed. Kernan failed, at the state and federal levels, to obtain a single new penny for Indiana transportation projects. In fact, he could end up with less money next year, not more.
Kernan's pennywise-pound-foolish plan to forego a billion dollars of long-range federal highway funding in return for a short-term infusion of federal highway cash hit stone wall after stone wall in this year's Legislature. It was ultimately stripped from a final conference committee report.
No I-69 money there.
And the news was even worse in Washington for the I-69 Kernancrats. "Kernan urges U.S. House not to pass highway bill," the headline on a March 25 Gannett News Service story screamed.
"The makeup of this bill is a step backward for our states," Kernan and 11 other governors wrote in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., about the latest version of a new federal highway funding bill. In fact, Indiana would apparently lose federal highway funds under the measure, which has passed the House and the Senate but faces a veto threat from President Bush for being too costly.
State officials had hoped to increase Indiana's "rate of return" on federal gasoline tax money paid to the federal government. As a "donor state," the story reported, Indiana is supposed to receive at least 90 cents back from every federal gas tax dollar for state and local highway projects.
Indiana and other donor states had lobbied to boost that figure from 90 to 95 cents in the new bill. But according to the Gannett story, the bill on Bush's desk would actually lower Indiana's rate of return to 82 cents.
No I-69 money there.
As Borst, Pierce, et al maintain, INDOT has no money to build I-69. There's no money for it anywhere.
Given Kruzan's 16 years experience in state government leadership, during which he certainly learned something about highway financing, his Chamber of Commerce mantra -- Bloomington needs to plan for I-69 -- is puzzling, to say the least. Here's how the H-T editorial board explained the mayor's position:
"Frontage roads running along I-69 from Ind. 46 south to Ind. 45 would reduce congestion on that stretch of I-69 and provide local motorists an alternative to the highway to move north-south on the west side." (The oft-rumored maps of Bloomington's 37 corridor with eight lanes of fast-moving traffic can now be visualized.)
The only way that Bloomington should follow Kruzan's lead and plan for I-69 in its future is if the mayor knows something that his former colleagues Borst, Pierce, Kersey, and others don't. If he does, he should tell us. If he doesn't, then he should get on with the task of planning Bloomington future as the non-interstate community the people want it to be.
Anything else would be irresponsible.
Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.