Chesterton Tribune

 
 

Move to make highway land deals public fails

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) A transparency bill amendment that would have required state highway officials to reveal how much they pay for land to make way for roads has died in the Indiana House.

The amendment that would have opened up information about appraisals and payments was defeated by Republicans in a largely party-line vote Monday. The full bill, approved Tuesday in a 98-0 vote, deals with transparency of business agreements involving the Indiana Economic Development Corp.

The Indianapolis Star has reported that the state offered $7 million for property appraised at $3.3 million for the Interstate 69 extension project between Evansville and Indianapolis. The Star also found that family members of Indiana Department of Transportation Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff received payments totaling more than $1.8 million for their land, a rate 43 percent above the average INDOT paid per acre for other farmland.

State officials refused to release records detailing the justification for the payments.

"We don't want to have our constituents wondering if you happen to be connected, have the right friends, maybe work in the right place, that somehow you are going to get a better deal than the next person," said Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, who authored the amendment.

Reps. Woody Burton, R-Whiteland, and Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, argued that the proposed amendment would put sellers' personal information at risk because many appraisals contain photos.

"Somebody with nefarious intent could look at whether somebody has a big screen TV or if they have an alarm system, things like that, that could violate an individual's privacy with regard to their home," Torr said.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence, who took office in January, directed his top ethics officer last month to investigate the purchase of land owned by Woodruff and his family.

Woodruff, a former Republican legislator, has said he had no involvement with I-69 land purchases other than a Daviess County parcel he owned with his brother and father. That section of I-69 opened in November.

Democrats had argued they wanted the highway department to be subject to transparency similar to what the bill would require for the state's business recruitment agency.

Under the bill previously approved by the Senate, the economic development agency would have to prepare an annual public report on tax incentives provided to businesses and the number of jobs created by their projects.

House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said Tuesday the bill was a good step after some jobs announcements in recent years had been "overly exuberant."

The bill follows a WTHR-TV investigation that found as many as 40 percent of the more than 100,000 jobs promoted from 2005 to 2010 by agency officials and then-Gov. Mitch Daniels never materialized, but the IEDC wouldn't disclose which companies didn't meet their job commitments.