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Indiana Toll Road rally turns to shouting match

Associated Press | February 28, 2006
By Mike Smith

INDIANAPOLIS -- Hundreds packed the Statehouse on Tuesday for a rally designed to build momentum for Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Major Moves" highway initiative. But as some cheered support, others shouted jeers that sometimes drowned out the governor and other speakers.

Daniels told the crowd that the legislation, which would allow him to lease the Indiana Toll Road for $3.85 billion, would create tens of thousands of jobs by help funding many highway projects that have languished for years.

"This will make promises and dreams a reality in this state," Daniels said.

Supporters, many from labor unions representing building trades, cheered and applauded wildly.

But many people shouted in opposition, saying the plan to lease the toll road to a private, Australian-Spanish consortium for 75 years was selling a major state asset to companies that were sure to hire nonunion labor at low wages.

Many held signs that said, "Ditch Mitch" and "Indiana For Sale," and heckled speakers with shouts of "liar" and "You're selling your kids' future." At times, opponents booed repeatedly and chanted "No, no, no!"

The highway bill passed the House and a revised version is now before the GOP-ruled Senate, where a vote is expected this week. A Senate committee has removed some provisions that appeased Republicans in the GOP-controlled House that helped nudge the bill to pass in that narrowly divided chamber.

Another revision would require Daniels to get legislative approval before he could make any additional highways or bridges tollways. Daniels wants to make the planned extension of Interstate 69 a tollway and lease it, something he could have done on his own under the House-passed bill.

The legislation is likely to end up in a House-Senate conference committee where compromises on a final version would be sought. Democrats say the toll road lease is a risky financial deal, among other things. Sen. Glenn Howard of Indianapolis is the only Democratic legislator to support the plan.

People filled the south atrium of the Statehouse for Tuesday's rally, with dozens lining the balconies of upper floors to watch from above. About 40 supporters flanked Daniels and Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman on a stage with a banner overhead that said "Major Moves: The Jobs Vote of a Generation."

Many in the crowd support the I-69 expansion from Indianapolis to Evansville, and under Daniels' plan, an initial $700 million would be used to begin construction on the project. Its final price tag has been estimated at about $1.8 billion.

Loogootee Mayor Don Bowling, whose city is about halfway between Bloomington and Evansville, said the highway extension was needed for economic development in southwestern Indiana.

"We cannot stand by and see I-69 sacrificed because of politics," he said.

Several opponents were from the United Auto Workers who predicted that work for much of the highway construction and spin-off projects would go to laborers at much lower wages than union employees get. Some noted that shortly after Daniels took office, he rescinded collective bargaining authority for state employees.

"He's a $9-an-hour governor," said UAW member Fuzz LeMay of Brazil, about 10 miles east of Terre Haute.

The legislative session is to end by March 14.


Last modified March 1, 2006




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