We relayed a report from Lesley Stedman Weidenbener earlier this week that State Senator Ron Grooms voted on Tuesday in favor of Senate Bill 473, which suspends the state legislature's approval authority over toll roads, allowing the State Department of Transportation to enter into governor-approved financial and building plans with only the State Budget Committee having oversight.
If the bill passes the House, Grooms and the legislature will be restricted to the sidelines of any tolling deal made on the Ohio River Bridges Project before July 1, 2015, when approval authority for a few select projects, including the bridges, would transfer back to the legislature. No legislative vote will occur, regardless of the toll amount or the bridges included.
However, when a constituent asked Grooms about voting for tolls on his Facebook page Wednesday, Grooms replied that he has not voted for tolls and "will not vote for any amount that creates an undue hardship on areas residents."
Does Grooms honestly not understand that he gave up any say in the matter for the next few years? Is he just using Facebook to say what he thinks people want to hear? Is he just hoping to skate on a semantic technicality since he will indeed not be voting on tolls any time soon, one way or the other?
The bill synopsis states:
Various transportation issues. Permits, without legislative recognition, the location of certain tollways, converting part of I-69 to a tollway, issuing requests for proposals, and entering into a public-private agreement for certain highway projects until July 1, 2015.
The actual bill states:
(a) Subject to subsection (e), the governor must approve the location of any tollway.
(b) The department may, in any combination, plan, design, develop, construct, reconstruct, maintain, repair, police, finance, and operate tollways, public improvements, and arterial streets and roads at those locations that the governor approves.
The referenced subsection (e) states:
(e) Notwithstanding any other law, the governor, the department, or an operator may not carry out any of the following activities under this chapter unless the general assembly enacts a statute authorizing that activity:
(1) This subdivision does not apply before July 1, 2015. Approve the location of a tollway, other than:
____(A) Interstate Highway 69 between Interstate Highway 64 and a city having a population of more than eleven thousand five hundred (11,500) but less than eleven thousand seven hundred forty (11,740);
____(B) the Illiana Expressway, a limited access facility connecting Interstate Highway 65 in northwestern Indiana with an interstate highway in Illinois; or
____(C) a project that is located within a metropolitan planning area (as defined by 23 U.S.C. 134) and that connects the state of Indiana with the commonwealth of Kentucky.
(2) Carry out construction for Interstate Highway 69 in a township having a population of more than seventy-five thousand (75,000) and less than ninety-three thousand five hundred (93,500).
(3) Impose tolls on motor vehicles for use of the part of an interstate highway that connects a consolidated city and a city having a population of more than eleven thousand five hundred (11,500) but less than eleven thousand seven hundred forty (11,740).
The bolding of "does not apply before July 1, 2015" is the state's, not mine. It was apparently added by the Senate Committee on Appropriations before being approved by the full Senate. A screen shot of the quoted text is below. Click to enlarge.
The entire bill is here.
Two other items worth noting:
1. As mentioned in the synopsis, this bill also authorizes public-private partnerships for certain highway projects with no legislative approval required.
2. Senator Jim Smith (R-Charlestown) tried unsuccessfully to to amend the bill to refocus on the East End bridge and protect Indiana revenue in the event that an additional downtown bridge is constructed.