David Hoppe

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:: Hoping is Pence’s Way of leadership

by David Hoppe

Indiana is beginning to feel like Never Never Land, the fantastical place where Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up, found refuge.

The Associated Press reports that Indiana is developing plans to build a new inn at Potato Creek State Park. This will be the first new inn built at a state park in over 70 years. The project will apparently cost $24 million. That amount was approved by our one-party-rule state legislature last April.

But guess what?

While the money’s been approved, it doesn’t exist yet — at least not in the way you would think. The state doesn’t have that $24 million in its coffers.

That’s because it will come from leasing the capacity of cell phone towers located on DNR land. This should be a lucrative source of cash; it’s just that the state hasn’t sold any of those leases yet.

Not one.

Meanwhile, though, Gov. Mike Pence’s administration has been busy spending all that, as yet, unraised dough. There’s going to be a slew of projects associated with the state’s bicentennial, including a Bicentennial Plaza, and a new education center at the State Library.

I think a new inn for Potato Creek is great. I just wonder why the same thinking couldn’t have been applied to the already existing Pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park, a really cool Deco-style building erected in 1929-30.

That building was neglected for years. It went from being an architectural gem to a near-ruin for lack of care — because, supposedly, there wasn’t any money.

Well, that all changed when a well-connected Republican came along with an idea to renovate the old pavilion and build something entirely new — a whiz-bang banquet hall, fine dining restaurant, rooftop bar extravaganza — next to it.

The problem with this is that, from its well-connected developer, to the ridiculously lop-sided terms of its lease agreement, this so-called “public-private partnership” has all but hollered “SWEETHEART DEAL!”  

The only good news in this embarrassing boondoggle is that the old pavilion appears to be finally getting some TLC.

So here we have what appear to be two preferred ways of getting things done in Indiana: hoping that rich developers will turn public assets into private profits, and hoping that stuff we’ve somehow overlooked (like cell phone towers) can be sufficiently monetized.

It will take plenty of both to fix what’s become of our roads, bridges and highways. According to an excellent piece by Maureen Groppe in the Star, Indiana spends less than most states on this kind of infrastructure. While Gov. Pence likes to wax poetic about “the Hoosier Way,” our state has actually been riding on the coattails of Federal transportation money. We haven’t raised our gas tax in over a decade. Groppe cites the Reason Foundation, a free market think tank, which has lowered Indiana’s overall highway rating from 22nd to 36th.

“If you’re going to be the Crossroads of America, you better have the roads to back it up,” says Gov. Pence. But he also says he’s against raising the gas tax. “We can make those existing gas tax dollars go farther.”

In other words, he’s hoping again. It’s like he believes in fairies.