Mitch Daniels' announcement last week that he wants to creatively pick taxpayers' pockets to build new-terrain I-69 as fast as he can means next year's gubernatorial race now features no voice for fiscal or environmental responsibility. As one seasoned new-terrain opponent observed: "The hogs are lining up at the trough."

And the language that Boy George's man Mitch used in his announcement suggests that those who love Southern Indiana's forests and farms and peace and tranquility had better gird for a full-fledged assault on their environment, their communities, and their wallets.

In a Nov. 25 news release, Daniels declared: "I want to start construction as soon as possible, and I don't want to wait 12-14 years to finish. With some 21st century thinking, not only can we avoid yet another disappointment, we can accelerate completion. No part of Indiana has suffered more from the state's economic decline than our Southwest. Years of economic neglect and inactivity by this administration are typified by its total failure to deliver on I-69."

Overnight, with announcements that Joe Kernan was in and Joe Andrew was out, I-69 shifted from an issue of economic responsibility to which major party is going to destroy Southwest Indiana the quickest. In response to Daniels' proposal that the highway's northern connection with I-465 be moved west - presumably avoiding Sen. Richard Lugar's family farm and satisfying Senate Finance Chair Lawrence Borst's concerns - a Kernan spokesman countered that the Republicans' plan would slow the highway's completion.

"The difference is that Mitch Daniels' proposal could delay the I-69 project another 2 to 3 years," Scott Downes told the Evansville Courier & Press. "... Mitch Daniels wants to spend more tax dollars on more I-69 studies, while Joe Kernan wants to take action now and create jobs in Southwestern Indiana."


In his announcement, Daniels propagated perhaps the most transparent lie about I-69 told to citizens to date: that new-terrain I-69 will be good for all Indiana taxpayers, from Gary to Fort Wayne, Muncie, Lafayette, Terre Haute, Carmel, Richmond, New Albany, and Vincennes.

"Indiana's comeback must start with an understanding that we are all in this together," Daniels said in his news release. "Jobs lost in any part of this state are a problem for us all, and revival anywhere is good news everywhere. I will be advocating all over Indiana that I-69, and the jobs it will create, is important to us all, and that it deserves statewide support."

It's worth noting that Daniels, along with Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis, recently participated in a panel discussion in Indianapolis on the subject of replacing the Indiana Department of Commerce with an Indiana Department of Corporate Welfare, which they would call the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

He urged "creative thinking" as the path to I-69 funding, even though all of the solutions he proposed - a toll road, public-private partnerships, and "innovative options for compensating landowners" - amount to the same old solution: fleece the taxpayers and funnel their money into vested interests' pockets.

Consider the Daniels funding proposal that created the most buzz - "toll financing using modern technology." Under any scenario, creative or not, that means not only bilking citizens out of billions of tax dollars to build the multi-billion-dollar boondoggle but making them pay for the privilege of driving on it, every time they do.

Hoosier workers should consider the possible definitions of "toll financing using modern technology," bureaucratic doublespeak at its best. Automated money changers at toll booths, rather than toll booth attendants? Technology replacing jobs, in other words. And who knows what creative thinking by wholly uncreative people might mean. A direct deposit system through which every toll paid goes straight into bank accounts of the highway lobby, perhaps?

One shudders at the thought of "innovative options for compensating landowners." Whatever that pol-talk might mean, it can't be good for those who own homes, land, and businesses in the new-terrain's path. The goal here is to reduce the highway's cost. That can only mean less money in landowners' pockets.

Creative thinking, indeed.


Daniels announcement of support for new-terrain I-69 is of course a devastating blow to the anti-highway forces. It means Mitch Daniels and Joe Kernan will both be traversing the state of Indiana on the highway lobby's dime, unchallenged by a milquetoast state media, telling Hoosier citizens that I-69 is a done deal and a good thing for them.

It also means the citizens will be voiceless in the 2004 gubernatorial campaign and that I-69 is in fact a done deal, unless they broaden their vision beyond the farms, fields, forests, and back yards of Southwest Indiana. Anti-new terrain forces have a one-year window in which to stop I-69 politically.

There are a number of strategies worth considering, foremost among them running candidates for governor in the spring and fall. The most effective way to resist the coming Daniels/Kernan assault on Southwest Indiana is to have Citizen Democrats and Republicans on the ballots in the spring, and a Green in the fall, telling voters the truth about I-69 and asking for their support.

The time is short. Citizen leaders are desperately needed.

Steven Higgs is editor of The Bloomington Alternative.