Why Pat Bauer should pick up a history book

By RiShawn Biddle

Expresso • January 31, 2006

Fear-mongering. Cries that the state is selling the people's assets to foreign owners. Fuming and fussing about the supposed lack of time for discussing a lease deal, even though the matter has actually been up for consideration since the 2004 gubernatorial elections. One expects such showy displays of partisanship from House Democrats and their leader, Pat Bauer, who oppose the Toll Road deal and House Bill 1008, which would allow the authorization of it.

But this afternoon, even Bauer topped his own well-earned reputation for hyperbole. And that, folks, is especially tough for him to accomplish. While on the floor of the House arguing for fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Crawford's amendment to H.B. 1008, which would have substituted the Toll Road deal for a bond deal, Bauer dared to compare the 75-year lease of the ill-managed asset to Australian outfit Macquarie Bank and Spain's Cintra to the state's failed canal boom that led to the state nearly going bust in the 1840s.

Apparently Bauer is as much a scholar of history as he is a master of bipartisanship. Just by perusing a copy of The Indiana Historian -- thanks to a quick search on Google (which, by the way, is based out of that foreign locale called, umm, California, and was cofounded by a not-so-Anglo-Saxon-American named person named Sergei Brin) -- would note a few facts that undermine his argument.

For one, the state was building canals, something that isn't exactly going on here. The state began work on the first of a series of canals when it completed the Wabash and Erie in 1832 with the help of a federal grant. By 1836, state government decided to bet taxpayer dollars -- and overexpose them to the risks of capital projects -- by enacting the Internal Improvements Act, which financed construction of several canals, including the Central, all at the same time.

The result was a disaster. By 1839, the projects were halted. Two years later, the state could no longer pay off the bonds that financed the deal. Among the results: A beautiful but useless canal next to what is now the state government office complex, the 1851 (and current) state constitution, which barred state government from borrowing money and enough hot air to fuel House floor speeches for entire sessions.

That Bauer actually got his history wrong is, well, what one can expect from a politician in high fervor and histrionics. The very fact that the canal-building bust's lessons -- manage the risks of capital projects wisely and get rid of assets that can expose taxpayers to such needless costs as the Toll Road deal does -- means that Bauer should actually re-read the history books.

Meanwhile: Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana has a few choice words about House Democrats and their propensity to "destruct." Tracy Warner notes that "still don't comprehend all the questions, let alone the answers" about the Toll Road deal. It isn't because of those of us that have done our jobs on the matter and offered them some ways to think about the deal itself. Speaking of which, one of those who are informing people about the deal, Brian Howey, offers his reasons why the deal is a good idea.

And for those who still have questions about the Toll Road deal, yours truly has discussed the matter here and here and here, while the Star Editorial Board answers some additional questions here. Enjoy.