Mitch Daniels on Infrastructure at AEI

By February 26, 2008Infrastructure

The most promising and politically controversial initiative taken by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels during his first term of office was the long-term leasing of the Indiana Toll Road to a private consortium, bringing in nearly $4 billion over 75 years. (Details here.)“We are taking in more in interest alone each year than the toll road generated in 50,” Daniels told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute Monday. The revenues are dedicated to infrastructure and economic development, he emphasized.

These kind of private-public partnerships are drawing more attention nationwide as gas tax revenues prove insufficient to maintain transportation infrastructure. Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania — incoming chairman of the National Governors Association — supports a long-term lease of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, with revenues to address the state’s infrastructure shortfalls.

But the talk of public-private partnerships is not — and should not be — limited to public toll roads. Private management of the Gary, Ind., airport, for example, is a “tantalizing subject” Daniels told the AEI audience.

“The mayor of Gary has said that he is prepared to look at the possibility of some kind of a lease of that facility that might bring some private capital into the game, too,” Daniels said…[snip]

“There’s a heck of an opportunity there if we can get it right,” he said of the airport. “I would use both public and private tools. I support that.”

Daniels took great political heat from the toll-road leasing (unions and local residents being most upset), but the benefits are accruing and the political damage clearly subsiding. A just-released public opinion poll showed Daniels with a 20-point lead over both his potential Democratic challengers.

P.S. Governors talked about infrastructure in their meeting with President Bush Monday. A recurring theme at these NGA meetings is the states’ pleas for more federal dollars.

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