Indiana is still figuring out how to pay the tab for millions of dollars of projects pushed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was the Hoosier State’s governor.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) is seeking ways to pay for a $5.5 million budget hole created by a Pence plan to celebrate the state’s 200th birthday last year, The Indianapolis Star reported. Included in the $53.5 million plan was $24 million to build a lodge at a state park, $25 million for a new state archives building, $2.5 million for an education center at the state library and $2 million for a new plaza at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The state has spent over $5 million on the projects so far, including building the plaza and education center, but construction hasn’t begun on the lodge and state archives building.
Pence’s office initially planned to pay for the bicentennial celebration by leasing available space on the state’s cellular towers.
“Everyone was skeptical that we could lease those cell towers for that amount of money,” said state Sen. Karen Tallian, the ranking Democrat on the Senate appropriations committee. “Amongst the budget writers at the time that was the general consensus. ‘Oh this is never gonna fly,’ but if they can get it, fine, and we can put it in there.”
“I don’t know that I can tell you any person who was enthusiastic, but I’m not gonna speak for them,” she continued.
Pence announced an agreement to lease the state’s cell towers to Agile Networks, an Ohio-based company, in September. He said the deal would bring $260 million in revenue to the state and that Agile would pay $50 million upfront to manage the towers. The deal drew objections from the Indiana Broadband and Technology Association and has yet to be implemented. Stephanie Wilson, a Holcolmb spokeswoman, suggested the deal might not go through, telling the Star it is under review and “we don’t know if or when it will be done.”
Neither Pence’s nor Holcomb’s office returned a request for comment. During the presidential campaign, Pence frequently talked about balancing Indiana’s budget and has long advocated cutting unnecessary government spending.
Holcomb had proposed using money from a tobacco settlement fund to pay for the bicentennial project, the Star reported. The money has traditionally gone toward public health initiatives in the state, and Holcomb has since backed away from using the tobacco fund money.
Tallian said the tab Pence left the state with is just one of many problems she has with the vice president.
“That’s just a minor part of why I’m disappointed in Governor Mike Pence. That’s just one little tweak,” she said.