Since Steve Bonney became the public face on a legal challenge to Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves highway scheme, he has developed an even greater understanding of the frustration and cynicism that average citizens feel toward their government.
Just last week, for example, a judge in South Bend told Bonney that he'd have to come up with $1.9 billion to challenge the constitutionality of Gov. Mitch Daniels' sale of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign corporation, whose only interest in the state is pocketing hundreds of billions of dollars of Hoosier motorists' money over the next 75 years.
Bonney said St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis wouldn't let him and six other Hoosier citizen plaintiffs and the Citizens Action Coalition (CAC) discuss the institutionalized corruption that permeates Indiana government and the role it played in Major Moves.
"They don't want to hear about corruption," the Lafayette resident and Greene County organic farmer said. "They don't want to hear about any of that stuff."
Raising the $90,000 it would take just to appeal Scopelitis' decision on the bond to the Indiana Supreme Court is frustrating enough for the citizen plaintiffs and the CAC, which has also led the fund-raising effort for legal fees. At a discounted rate, the citizens are paying $240 an hour, Bonney said.
Which segues to yet another frustration, the slowness with which citizens and citizen groups across the state and nation are responding to the radical nature of Daniels' plan, which was approved by the Indiana General Assembly last session.
"I am just amazed at how slow the wheels turn on this subject," Bonney said. "I think it's because people have been beaten so often that it just takes a long time to sink in. And secondly, not very many people have hope that this whole corruption thing that is going on in government can ever be stopped and overturned."
While the citizens' legal challenge, which they will appeal on June 5, primarily focuses on the deal Major Moves struck on the Indiana Toll Road in Northern Indiana, the whole sordid affair is directly linked to the proposed Interstate 69 extension between Evansville, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Major Moves earmarks for I-69 construction a portion of the one-time, up-front, $3.8 billion lease payment Toll Road operator ITR Concessions LLC will give the state. And two of the nine counts in the citizens' suit dealt directly with last-minute political deals Daniels made with individual legislators on I-69 last year to get Major Moves passed.
The I-69 provisions, which Scopelitis said could go forward without the $1.9 billion bond, involve moving its connection with I-465 in Indianapolis on the city's Southwest side and the elimination of tolls from Martinsville to Indianapolis. In response to public pressure, legislators in both of these heavily Republican areas opposed Major Moves.
Like their counterparts in Bloomington, citizens in Indianapolis' Perry Township at the proposed I-69/I-465 junction do not want the highway passing through their area. And since Daniels plans on funding I-69 construction and operation with tolls, Martinsville citizens rebelled en masse at the notion of paying to drive on a road they have already paid for with gasoline taxes — State Road 37, which would be upgraded to Interstate standards for I-69.
Bonney said not only were these deals transparent political horse trading, or "log rolling," but they were effectively "special legislation" that are likewise unconstitutional. But pursuing these aspects of the lawsuit puts opponents in the position of doing Daniels' dirty work for him.
"He was going to go back to the Legislature anyway this next session and have them put those right back in like they were," Bonney said.
Bonney and other citizens opposed to new-terrain I-69 argue that Daniels needs both the Perry Township and Martinsville tolling for his I-69 extension plan to work.
The governor maintains he will use Major Moves money to expedite construction of I-69. But if he has to change the route out of Perry Township, he will have to redo environmental impact studies, which will cause further delay.
And I-69 activists in Martinsville have told Bonney that the impression left by Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Thomas Sharp's at public meetings there is that there will be no change in the route.
"They're not changing their design plans or anything," Bonney said. "They're just acting like it's going to be business as usual, because it would be a two-year delay to have a new FEIS, if they changed all that."
And economically speaking, it is simply unfathomable that an I- 69 toll road could be financially feasible without toll collections between Martinsville and Indianapolis, he added.
"They can't do it without that," Bonney said. "In fact, I don't think an operator would take it if the most traveled part of won't have any tolls on it."
"So my question is, if we would just use this lawsuit to move I-69 back into Perry Township and put tolls back on the road from Martinsville to Indianapolis, which is what the governor wants anyway, aren't we just playing into his hands?" he said.
Bonney and others say the privatization of the nation's highway system as represented by Major Moves is little more than a scheme to transfer more of the average citizens' money into the pockets of the corporations that underwrite politicians' careers. And they are appalled at the manner in which Daniels is selling the public such a bill of goods.
A commonly accepted rationale for public-private toll roads in Indiana and elsewhere is that the public will not stand for increases in gasoline taxes for highway funding. John Smith from the citizens' group CountUS! explained the contradiction in a statement circulated to the group's e-mail list.
"Statewide or nationally, the public will object to a 3-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase," he wrote. "But toll some tens of thousands people ... for another 50 or 75 years and you hear a lot less objection. Proponents of this privatized tolling promote up to 10-cents-per-mile tolls. That is $4 per gallon on top of any fuel tax for a 40 mpg hybrid."
Bonney put it another way: A 5-cent-per-mile toll would cost drivers of 20-mile-per-gallon vehicles the equivalent of a $1 tax per gallon of gasoline. A toll, he said, is a tax by another name, except that the money goes to a private corporation with no direct accountability to the public.
At a hearing last month before a House subcommittee that Daniels testified before, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., projected that the toll road operator would be earning a net annual profit of one-half billion dollars by 2030, Bonney said. By 2050, the profit would jump to $1.5 billion.
"So, I extrapolated that out, and it's roughly $60 billion," Bonney said. "... The gross is more than that, and all the gross will be supported by tolls. So, just in the profit realm, there will be about $60 billion in profits just in the last 30 years for the operator. And all that will be borne by the taxpayers."
Bonney notes that the toll road operator will not pay Indiana another penny after the initial $3.8 billion lease payment this year.
"So, is $3.8 billion a lot of money?" he asked. "No, it's miniscule compared to what taxpayers are going to be paying back to the toll operators."
As he has involved himself deeper into the Major Moves legal battle, Bonney has also realized that this is not just an effort to stop Mitch Daniels and I-69 in Indiana. It's a national struggle.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has already leased the Chicago Skyway, which connects to the Indiana Toll Road just past the Indiana border, to a private toll operator. And there is plenty of talk of similar deals being struck in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
An Ohio gubernatorial candidate, Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell, has proposed outsourcing the Ohio Turnpike.
So, even though Daniels and toll-road proponents argue that only about one-third of the motorists on the Indiana Toll Road will be Hoosiers, it's clear that Indiana motorists will be paying tolls wherever they go.
"We'll be paying it everywhere," Bonney said.
All of this should lead to national interest in the Major Moves legislation. "We could have a real escalation of these private partnerships, and I fear all that," Bonney said, noting that national independent trucker groups have contributed 10s of thousands to the legal effort thus far. "So, I think we have the potential to link up into a national movement."
But national groups find themselves facing the same sort of stacked decks that Hoosier activists face with I-69 and other public issues.
"There's not very many people sitting around with an empty plate and a capability of working on a national issue," Bonney said.
But neither the judge nor the cost of litigation is going to stop opposition to Major Moves and I-69, Bonney said.
"We've come a long way and worked too damned hard to just walk away from this stuff," he said.
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.
To contribute to the lawsuit against Major Moves, go to ....