Gary casino out of Senate bill, but potential port in
By Matt Mikus email@example.com February 13, 2013 4:34PM
Updated: March 15, 2013 1:27PM
INDIANAPOLIS — The economic bill proposed by State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, gained support from Gary community leaders after amendments to the bill will leave the Gary/Chicago International Airport Board as is.
The bill, which passed from the Public Policy committee with a 9-0 vote, had already been changed to exclude an inland casino, but the amendment added that a study for a trauma center would also include a medical academic facility.
It still has the Port of Indiana at Burns Harbor researching opening a port in Gary, and allows the city access to up to $3 million in tax revenues from the Gary Sanitary District.
Charbonneau said the bill’s origins come from the need for the Port of Indiana to expand. Since the Burns Harbor port provides over 6,000 direct jobs, and supplements 32,000 job in the region, expanding the port will offer more benefits.
“The Port of Indiana is a huge economic driver,” he said, “It’s so successful that it’s out of space.”
Original opposition to the bill stemmed from the Airport Board being reorganized, with more board members selected from various communities in the region and the governor. The bill now requires that anyone appointed to the board have at least five years’ experience in economic development, aviation or business. The board will remain with four members appointed by Gary, and one member each for Lake and Porter counties, and one member appointed by the governor. The governor also can deny an appointee if the person does not meet the experience requirement.
“The key thing here,” said State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, “is you got to have some knowledge.”
Members of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations said during testimony that they were planning to oppose the bill, but the changes removed their concern of losing control of an economic asset to the region.
Some Gary residents at the hearing felt it was time for the airport to have more state oversight to produce results. They cited the taxpayer dollars invested already that have not resulted in a top-tier commercial airport.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and City Councilman Kyle Allen, D-at large, supported the bill and pointed to the benefits to the city.
“We had a wide group of residents around the city in support of this,” Freeman-Wilson said. “You can’t have a better group to support this. And I think the message of the 9-0 support is significant.”
Randolph said adding a little oversight on appointments to the airport board is fine, considering the potential. “You’ve got to give a little to get a little,” Randolph said. “So I don’t mind having the governor having some say, to allow us to look at the trauma and academic center and the port authority.”
Charbonneau said the work between the community members and city officials to find an agreement is a sign of new efforts to work together to solve problems in Northwest Indiana, and he has high hopes for the bill.
“I have no reason to believe that this will not pass,” Charbonneau said after the hearing. “It still has to go to the tax and fiscal policy for review on money. But I anticipate we’ll get a bill passed.”