Sunday, March 05, 2006

Indianans ask Gov. Daniels: "Hoosier sugar daddy?"

Too much, too fast?

Many Hoosiers don't like Daniels' rush to make changes, The Star finds

March 5, 2006

By Mary Beth Schneider and Theodore Kim
The Indianapolis Star
Copyright 2006

After pushing to change everything from Hoosiers' clocks to who runs their Toll Road, Gov. Mitch Daniels has seen his popularity plummet during his first year in office.

About half of all adults in Indiana say Daniels has made too many changes too quickly since he became governor in January 2005, according to an Indianapolis Star poll taken last week. His approval rating has dropped from 55 percent a few months after taking office to 37 percent in the most recent poll.

Mary Kendall, 70, an independent voter from rural Fayette County, said she became a Daniels fan during the 2004 campaign as he traveled from town to town in his RV. But she says she probably wouldn't vote for him again if the election were held today.

"I thought he was great," Kendall said. "But now he's trying to do too many things too fast."
Hoosiers also disapprove of the biggest change Daniels has sought since becoming governor: the $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to an Australian-Spanish consortium to raise money for highway projects.

Only 30 percent of those polled say the lease is a good idea, while 60 percent said it's a bad idea.

Daniels is shrugging off the state's dissatisfaction.

"Doing the right thing may have to be its own reward," Daniels said of the poll numbers. "I'd be a lot more concerned about going weak in the knees and breaking faith with what we said we'd do than about anybody's poll."

The governor's low popularity could affect everything from his ability to push through the rest of his agenda to this fall's legislative elections, where half the Senate and all of the House will come before voters. Political leaders agree Daniels has plenty of time to recover before his term ends in 2008, and the governor maintains his aggressive agenda ultimately will pay off.
Daniels said the people he admires, in all walks of life, are those who move ahead despite resistance, understanding "they would have to continue to explain and then produce results."
"Folks do change their view over time," he said.

Moody Hoosiers
Hoosiers, however, are more pessimistic about the state's condition than before Daniels was elected governor 16 months ago. More than half -- 53 percent -- of those polled think Indiana is off on the wrong track, with only 38 percent saying the state is headed in the right direction.
In March 2005, 42 percent of Hoosiers said the state was headed in the right direction, while 48 percent said it was on the wrong track.

The new poll of 501 Hoosiers statewide has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points and was taken Feb. 28 through March 2 by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa. The numbers were statistically adjusted to reflect the state's population by age and race.
"I don't think it's surprising that folks are hesitant when we bring this much change this rapidly," Daniels said. "I think it's only human."

Kendall, the Fayette County voter, doesn't like leasing the Toll Road to foreign management and feels misled on time zones. She said she thought Daniels was going to put all of Indiana in the same time zone. Instead, federal officials decided 18 counties will now be on Central time with most of the state on Eastern, though all counties will observe daylight-saving time starting April 2.

"He might as well have left things the way they were," Kendall said.

But the governor has won some converts, too. Marlin Bontrager, a 48-year-old Democrat from Granger, didn't vote for Daniels in 2004, but he'd consider doing so in 2008.

"Part of what I like is that he's at least doing something. He's aggressive," Bontrager said.
The Toll Road bisects his Northern Indiana county, St. Joseph, and Bontrager said he is open to Daniels' effort to lease the highway, which he added is in need of some upgrades.

"I think it can be OK, but you have to be careful that you make it a good deal," he said.
Trying to build support for the Toll Road lease, Daniels has courted business and labor groups, held town hall meetings and lobbied lawmakers, always underscoring the state's road construction needs in a 10-year timetable of projects he calls Major Moves.

Legislation that would allow the governor to finalize such road privatization deals has passed both the House and Senate, but in very different versions. Lawmakers now are trying to negotiate a final version that can pass both chambers before the session ends March 14.

Foreign fears

Many Hoosiers seem to link the Toll Road deal with broader changes in the global economy that have hurt U.S. manufacturing. That concern has manifested itself in distrust, even hostility, toward foreign ownership.

Of the poll participants who said the Toll Road lease is a bad idea, nearly half (47 percent) said they oppose it mainly because of Macquarie-Cintra, the overseas consortium that wants to lease the road for 75 years.

Only 13 percent of opponents said their top concern was possible increases in Toll Road rates.
In the meantime, half of those polled said they wanted to use the money for other state initiatives in addition to roads. The governor wants use of the proceeds limited to transportation initiatives.

Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Lakeville, a supporter of the governor's plan, said Daniels' biggest challenge is conveying the merits and details of the Toll Road deal.

"When you have a chance to take on the heated questions one-on-one, people begin to understand what the governor is talking about," she said. "The opponents have had a feeding frenzy on the fear and paranoia people are feeling."

House Minority Leader B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, disagreed, replying, "People aren't stupid. They're against it."

Sen. Marvin D. Riegsecker, R-Goshen, a lease supporter, said he believes that many Hoosiers are philosophically opposed to privatization. He said they equate the governor's zeal to pass the Toll Road deal to the quickening tempo of the economy.

"Globalization is happening at a faster pace than we can keep up with," Riegsecker said. "It's this phenomenon, and the speed at which it is happening, that people feel uncomfortable with."
Dana Malott, a 36-year-old Republican from Lake County, staunchly opposes the Toll Road lease because she sees it as a sign of declining U.S. ownership.

"I think this whole country is selling out," the poll respondent said. "We're going to be a Third World country soon."

Historic lows

Daniels' poll numbers are among the lowest recorded for a sitting governor in Indiana since The Star began polling in the late 1980s.

A poll taken in January 1990 showed that Democratic Gov. Evan Bayh, after one year in office, was viewed favorably by 82 percent of Hoosiers. His successor, Gov. Frank O'Bannon, was approved of by 57 percent of Hoosiers after his first year in office but saw that drop to only 34 percent by 2002, after the economy bottomed out.

Bill Blomquist, a political science professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said Daniels' numbers may be a historic low for a governor after one year, but he noted Indiana hasn't had a governor quite like Daniels before.

"We haven't had in Indiana for a while a governor willing to spend his political capital in the first year and wait for people to get over their ruffled feathers before he comes back on the ballot," Blomquist said.

Dan Parker, chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party, said Daniels engineered the drop in poll numbers by focusing on daylight-saving time and a foreign lease of the Toll Road, rather than things Hoosiers care about, particularly education and jobs. And while Daniels has cast the Toll Road lease as "the jobs vote of a generation," Parker said the public isn't buying that.
"He thought he had political capital to spend, and he didn't. He burned it," Parker said.

Indiana Republican Party Chairman Murray Clark said he is "not completely surprised (by the governor's low approval rating) just because of the initiatives he's taken on. They're bold. They're the kind of things some people can't immediately get their arms around."

But, he said, these numbers will turn around in the long term, as people see the benefits of the changes Daniels is bringing.

"We live in an immediate gratification world," Clark said. "This isn't an immediate gratification governor."

About the poll

The Indianapolis Star poll was conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, Iowa, from Feb. 28 to March 2.

The poll is based on telephone interviews with 501 Indiana residents age 18 and older. Interviewers contacted households using randomly selected telephone numbers. The sample was drawn in such a way that every household equipped with a land-line telephone had an equal chance of being contacted. The poll was adjusted by age and race to reflect Indiana's population age 18 and older.

Most questions in the poll have a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points at a confidence level of 95 percent for the full sample. The poll asked these questions:
I'm going to mention some elected officials, both individuals and groups. For each, please tell me if you approve or disapprove of the job they are doing. Mitch Daniels as governor. Evan Bayh as U.S. senator. Richard Lugar as U.S. senator. The Indiana General Assembly.

Do you approve or disapprove of the way George Bush is handling his job as president? The situation with Iraq? The economy? The federal budget? The fight against terrorism? Immigration policy?

Do you think things in the state of Indiana are headed in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track?

Do you think things in the nation are headed in the right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track?

Gov. Daniels has proposed leasing the Indiana Toll Road to an Australian-Spanish consortium, which would pay $3.85 billion upfront for a 75-year lease. The state would have money for statewide road improvements. The consortium would set tolls, which would likely go up. Do you think this is mostly a good or mostly bad idea for Indiana?

What is the main reason you think it is a bad deal? A foreign company would manage the Toll Road, a private company and not the state would manage the Toll Road, tolls would likely increase, some other reason, not sure.

The money the state gets from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road might be used for other government programs, as well as statewide road improvements. Should the money be restricted to only highway and transportation-related issues or used for other programs as well?


Here's a brief look at the governor's plan to lease out the Indiana Toll Road:

• The lease: An Australian-Spanish consortium, Macquarie-Cintra, has offered the state an immediate payment of $3.85 billion for the right to take over Toll Road operations, maintenance and revenues for 75 years.

• The purpose: Gov. Mitch Daniels, who engineered the deal, wants to use the one-time payment to pay for road projects around the state. The agreement would allow the state to start those projects much earlier than originally planned.

• What's next: The Indiana General Assembly is considering legislation, House Bill 1008, that would ratify the Toll Road agreement and allow the governor to make similar deals in the future. The House and Senate have passed separate versions of the bill and are now trying to iron out their differences in a conference committee before the General Assembly adjourns March 14.

The new Star poll asked Hoosiers for their opinions about Gov. Mitch Daniels and President Bush. They may not want to hear the answers.

The Star asked Hoosiers if they think the governor's proposal to lease out the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years in return for $3.85 billion now is a good or bad deal.
• 60% Bad deal
• 30% Good deal
• 10% Not sure

Of those who said it was a bad deal, The Star asked why. Here are their answers:
47% Foreign control of the toll road for 75 years
13% Tolls would likely increase
12% Private control of a public asset
27% Other reasons
1% Not sure

Spending restrictions
The Star asked Hoosiers, should money raised by leasing the toll road be used only for highway and transportation related projects.
50%Use for other programs as well as transportaion
41% Restrict to highway/ transportation uses
9% Not sure

While about 73% of Hoosiers in the northwest part of the state think the leasing of the Toll Road is a bad deal, far fewer Hoosiers (58 percent) from the southern part of the state believe it's a bad deal.

The governor's approval rating has dropped dramatically over his first year in office.

March 2006
• Approve: 37%
• Disapprove: 52%
• Not sure: 11%

March 2005
• Approve: 55%
• Disapprove: 30%
• Not sure 15%

The Star asked Hoosiers if Gov. Daniels has made too many changes too fast, or is a lot of change good for a new governor?
51% Too many changes too fast
36% Good to have a lot of change
13% Not sure

About 43% of people younger than 45 years old approved, while only 28 percent of people 65 and older approved.

Daniels gets a 51% approval rating among those who say the economy is better than a year ago, compared with 24 percent who say the economy is worse.

Right or wrong track
Hoosiers who believe the state is moving in the wrong direction is increasing.

March 2006
• Right track: 38%
• Wrong track: 53%
• Not sure: 9%

March 2005*
• Right track: 42%
• Wrong track: 48%
• Not sure: 9%

January 2004
• Right track: 40%
• Wrong track: 48%
• Not sure: 12%

Numbers may not equal 100 due to rounding.

Call Star reporter Mary Beth Schneider at (317) 444-2772.

Star reporter Michele McNeil contributed to this story.

© 2006 The Indianapolis Star