Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said I-69 is on the fast track to be completed by 2012.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels says the first three sections will be completed three years ahead of schedule.

The governor says all of this could be done within the interstate's $700 million budget. -- Evansville's WFIE, Channel 14. Oct. 23, 2009

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Mitch Daniels has a problem. A big problem. His dream of a well-funded patronage machine, in the form of the I-69 extension from Evansville to Crane, is in trouble.

"It's 68 miles from Evansville to Crane. That's not $700 million. That's $1.4 billion, $1.4 billion to do it right."
In 2006, Daniels leased, for 75 years, Indiana's northern toll road to a private Spanish/Australian infrastructure consortium. The price of that lease was an eye-popping $3.8 billion dollars, which the consortium coughed up in the form of a check for cash that Indiana promptly deposited in the state checking account.

And the cash has been sitting there ever since, generating a little interest along the way but basically remaining unspent.

Unspent, that is, until a little announcement last fall by our governor: he was going to use some of the money, about $700 million of it, to pay for building I-69 from Evansville to at least as far as the Crane Army and Navy base in Martin County.

One little problem with that though: $700 million isn't enough money to build it. With the cost of materials (steel, concrete, asphalt) increasing at an average of 10-15 percent a year (well in excess of the interest rate being paid on the $3.8 billion, by the way), current estimates for the cost of I-69 are approximately $20 million dollars a mile.

It's 68 miles from Evansville to Crane. That's not $700 million. That's $1.4 billion, $1.4 billion to do it right.

But the Governor says he doesn't have to do it right.

Instead, he proposes a massive cost-saving program to build the highway "using creative methods," which is a euphemism for "cheaply."

Instead of a divided median between the opposing lanes of traffic, now they propose only a cable fence. Instead of building the pavement to federal highway standards, only laying down enough to last the next 20 years and deal with re-building the road then. And drop a few more interchanges while we're at it.

Not only does the Governor say this will get the road done for half price, but he says it will get it done in the next two years -- by 2012.

School is out (forever?)

Closing schools. Putting a referendum to raise funds on the November ballot. Buyouts and early retirement packages. Online, virtual learning. Cuts to programming. Four-day school weeks ... due primarily to a statewide cut of $298 million in K-12 funding implemented by Gov. Mitch Daniels, citing state revenue shortfalls. Bloomington Herald Times, "Job losses, bigger classes ahead at MCCSC," Jan. 22, 2010

Governor Daniels' tenure when he was president Bush's director of the Office of Management and Budget was short, but not sweet. Whether it was forecasting the negative fiscal impact of Bush's irresponsible tax cuts for the wealthy or spouting off about the certain-to-be-cheap cost of the Iraq war, there was one thing you could count on about a Daniels' fiscal forecast: it would be wrong.
"Of course it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to cut a third of a billion dollars from our education system just so that Governor can take the easy political road."
And his powers of soothsaying didn't improve when he moved from Washington back to Indiana. We were promised that lowered property taxes and increased sales taxes would make Indiana a haven for industry and investment. Instead, we are among the leading states for home foreclosures.

We were told that, yeah, it might be bad, but at least Indiana's in the black, unlike our neighbor states. Then every quarter brought a new, and relentlessly lower, estimate of government revenue.

Which brings us to where we are now: a state cutting investment in the only commodity proven to pay dividends, education, to the bone. Daniels, like 49 other Herbert Hoovers around the country, obstinately refuses to do the things necessary to maintain consumption and production, not to mention the economy, choosing instead to force our citizenry into the "we must suffer" coalition of privation-for-privation's sake.

Of course it doesn't have to be that way. We don't have to cut a third of a billion dollars from our education system just so that Governor can take the easy political road and prove his bona-fides as "The Blade." We don't have to wring our hands, gnash our teeth, or curse our fate.

We just have to, for the final time, drop the stupid highway.

There's seven hundred million dollars, cash, sitting in a state checking account. It could be spent on anything the Governor, with the legislature's blessing, wants to spend it on. It doesn't need to be spent building yet another highway to a city already well-served with highways, in all directions.

It can be spent, instead, educating the next generation so that, hopefully, they don't do things as stupidly as their parents did.

Gregory Travis can be reached at greg@littlebear.com.