-- Indiana lawmakers are bailing out the state’s former governor, Vice
President Mike Pence, after the Republican’s efforts to pay for two
completed projects celebrating the state’s bicentennial foundered.
A provision tucked
into the state’s next two-year budget, which was approved late last month by
the GOP-dominated Legislature, sets aside $5.5 million to pay for an
elaborate plaza constructed outside the Statehouse in Indianapolis and
upgrades to the state library.
“They did the work,
so somebody had to pay for it,” said Republican Sen. Luke Kenley, of
Noblesville, who is one of the state’s lead budget writers.
Still, funding for
the rest of the $53.5 million in projects Pence planned to celebrate
Indiana’s 200th year has not materialized, including financing for a new
state archives building and money to build an inn at northern Indiana’s
Potato Creek State Park. It’s unclear when -- or if -- the state will move
forward with those projects, which have been on hold for more than a year.
skeptical when Pence first pitched the plan in 2015, with Kenley questioning
“if we could afford a bicentennial.” Pence won them over after proposing to
pay for the projects by leasing out 340 state-owned cellphone towers through
a public-private partnership.
But one year later,
Pence was still struggling to make his plan work. He even declined an offer
of help from Kenley, who proposed shifting money from a revenue stream used
to pay for some of Pence’s other priorities.
September, Pence touted a new 25-year deal with Agile Networks that his
administration said would expand high-speed internet access in rural areas,
while bringing in $50 million for the state upfront.
But that drew
opposition from the state’s cable and broadband trade groups, which
represent companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner, because it
would’ve allowed Agile -- a competitor -- to get a leg up and use the
state’s fiber network.
Gov. Eric Holcomb,
Pence’s successor, pulled the plug on the tentative plan shortly after
taking office this year.
Rep. Greg Porter,
the Democrats’ point person on the budget, said Pence was counting on “magic
money that didn’t appear.”
“I knew it was
highly suspect because it took so long to develop,” said Porter, of
Indianapolis. “He planned for a party, had the party and didn’t have anybody
to pay for it.”
A spokesman for
Pence did not respond to a request for comment.
Kenley said the
agreement with Agile ended up being more complicated than it initially
appeared and could have negatively impacted local companies.
“The subject matter
was more complicated than we initially expected it to be,” he said.
It would have
granted extensive control of state property to Agile, which would have been
in charge of managing and operating the towers. That could have required
competitors to reveal confidential business plans when seeking right-of-way
approval from Agile to use state lands.
“On the face of it,
it was anti-competitive to my members,” said John Koppin, president of The
Indiana Broadband and Technology Association, which represents AT&T and
CenturyLink, among others.
Kenley and Holcomb
said they hope to come up with a workable alternative in the future. In a
memo, Holcomb administration officials said that the governor intends to
“manage the individual leases on towers ourselves instead of seeking
proposals for third-party managers.”
They also hope
revenues from a new deal will finally fund the projects Pence first