In his Jan. 11 State of the State address, Gov. Mitch Daniels didn't dwell on his plans to sell off the state's most valuable assets to corporate interests. But what he did say, and what he is doing, left citizens with no doubt that his agenda is to give multi-national corporations more control over every Hoosier citizen's life, from those who drive Hummers to those who languish in state prison cells.
"If we can interest private firms in putting their own money into the construction of I-69 and perhaps other expensive projects, recapturing that investment through tolls paid largely by non-Hoosiers, by all means let's do it," Daniels told gathered members of the General Assembly.
"And if a big if a private firm is willing to offer Indiana a very large sum of money today for the right to operate our northern toll road over time, we would be foolish not to seize that opportunity, and make the dreams of decades a reality in our time."
Bloomington-area Democrats and Greens see both propositions as huge ifs and part of a "privatization" agenda being pursued by Daniels. The end result will be Hoosier citizens saddled with legal obligations to pay global corporations profits, for decades to come, on public assets sold or leased to them by Daniels for a short-term infusion of cash today.
"This thing is really expanding," State Rep. Matt Pierce, D-61, said of Daniels' privatization agenda, which include everything from the state's transportation infrastructure to its State Park Inns to its health-care programs.
Pierce noted that State Republicans support legislation now making its way through the General Assembly that would allow the state to use eminent domain to take private property and lease it to private corporations at county airports and other transportation facilities.
Pierce and Green Party Secretary of State candidate Bill Stant agreed that the underlying argument for privatization that the private sector can provide public services more efficiently than the public is a myth.
"It's based on this false idea that government is so completely inefficient that any private for-profit enterprise can do a better job and provide the services more cheaply to the public," Pierce said. "I just don't think that that makes much sense, particularly when you look at the toll road issue."
Stant: "This strikes me as blind faith in market forces, a completely ideologically driven policy agenda. ... It's pure pro-free-market ideology. ... The idea that we would outsource our transportation infrastructure is just illogical."
Stant, a financial analyst and advisor, called the notion that private business is inherently more efficient than government a "profound myth."
"It is simply not the case," he said. "... I work in the insurance and the investment industry, and I can tell you business makes the federal government, and even the state government, look like the model of efficiency."
He called privatization an "attack upon civil servants and public employees" in the state of Indiana.
"Now it's starting to get real," he said. "It's not just ideas in the heads of people who don't understand the world, like Mitch Daniels. They're now cutting off jobs, taking away collective bargaining rights."
Stant said it's time to "draw a line in the sand, so to speak, and say, 'No, you're going no further with the privatization agenda.'"
Pierce said Daniels aggressively pushed the privatization agenda during his first year in office, citing state prisons as the most glaring example. In his State of the State speech, the governor made reference to his push to privatize state prisons.
"We stopped cooking our own prison food in 26 separate kitchens and saved $12 million, while food quality improved," he said.
Pierce, who noted that some privatization has already occurred in health care provided to prisoners, said the grassroots tells a different story from Daniels.
"I understand that they've gotten the cost down to 90 cents a day per inmate to feed them," he said.
But the situation worries some legislators with penal institutions in their districts, he added.
"The reports they are sending back to us is that the guards are getting nervous because they're essentially saying that the amount of food has been cut back and that the prisoners are hungry sometimes. They're not happy about the food level they get. And there are concerns that this might turn into some kind of rioting."
Pierce cited the state prison facility at New Castle as an example of how Daniels has moved on privatization, and of how private interests controlling public property can influence public policy in those interests' favor.
During his first year in the General Assembly, Pierce said, legislators decided against using a new wing that had been built in New Castle. The feeling was that there were preferable alternatives to endlessly building and filling prisons.
"The General Assembly made a policy decision that we would basically fill whatever prison space we built," he said, "but what we really needed was to adjust our criminal justice system and our sentencing to where we're putting people into programs that are actually going to be about rehabilitation and getting people to become productive members of society, to make sure you have room for people who are truly violent criminals that need to be put away."
Daniels overturned that policy at New Castle.
"Now they've opened that wing up, they're filling it up, and it's being run by a private company, which now has an incentive to get a lot of prisoners, because that's how they make a profit," Pierce said.
The state's power to deprive citizens of their freedom is among government's most serious responsibilities, he said. "Now we're turning that function over to the private sector."
Daniels' "Major Moves" scheme to finance the $4-5 billion I-69 extension and other transportation projects through public-private partnerships underscores the inherent flaw behind the privatization agenda, Pierce and Stant agreed.
"If it's hard for a government that is a not-for-profit, more or less, to raise the capital to build a road to be able to maintain it as a public service, then what in the world allows a private company to come in and, for a profit, make that work?" Pierce asks.
"The only way I see that business plan working is you either allow them to raise tolls through the roof, or you have to let them skimp on maintenance or the construction of the road. There has to be someplace where they are making a profit."
Stant said Daniels' Major Moves shows a profound lack of understanding of 21st century realities.
"It totally ignores the fact that in the face of rising energy costs and rising transportation costs and rising manufacturing costs, all of which are associated with the end of cheap energy," he said, "we have to start thinking and acting and doing more and more locally."
And since government is in effect a non-profit institution, when it comes to cost-efficiency, it should be able to handle the job, Pierce said.
"My belief is that if a private enterprise can come in and figure out a way to make a profit, then government ought to be able to figure out a way even less expensively as a nonprofit," Pierce said.
Major Moves is the legislative centerpiece this year of Daniels' effort to legislate privatization in Indiana. A bill being debated that would curb the state's ability to take private property through eminent domain came out of a House committee with an exemption for transportation projects.
The bill was introduced in response to a recent Supreme Court ruling that says government can, for example, "take property through eminent domain and convey it to private developer for a shopping mall," Pierce said.
The argument that Daniels and his allies in the General Assembly make for exempting public-private toll roads make is they're not going to give it to the private company, he said, "they're going to least it to them."
Pierce said he does not see the distinction: "To me, when you are giving a 50 or 90-year lease to somebody, that's not much different from selling it to them."
He will introduce an amendment that would remove the transportation exemption from the eminent domain bill.
Pierce said he expects legislators will be sympathetic to the governor's privatization plans. But Major Moves will be a tougher sell.
The plan calls for leasing the Indiana Toll Road across northern Indiana to a private corporation, most likely global in structure, which has spawned opposition from Northwest Indiana residents about increase toll costs.
"And then people down here who live between Bedford and the south side of Indianapolis, I don't think they could vote for something that could force their constituents to pay a toll on a road that has been free for the past three decades or so," Pierce said, referring to Daniels' plan to make the State Road 37 section of I-69 a toll road.
Pierce: "I've heard him say a couple times now, 'Gee, if we can guild these roads with somebody's else's money, I say what the heck, let's do it. If we can get those foreign people to build the roads, then isn't that just great, rather than our tax dollars.'"
That, Pierce said, is a sleight-of-hand political maneuver. "I'm sure the governor is smart enough to know that whatever money we get today, however many billions that might be, Hoosiers pay back that money over the next 50 years in higher tolls and all kinds of costs. Certainly, on the I-69 thing, that is the case."
Stant put it another way.
"What it shows is how far they are willing to go in the name of this false god," he said, "this worship of markets, in this case the global marketplace."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.