Change to Gary airport board runs into turbulence
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2013 5:54PM
Updated: April 22, 2013 12:13PM
INDIANAPOLIS — While some legislators spoke of rare cooperation Wednesday on Senate Bill 585, the “Gary bill,” others argued about the power it could give the governor at the airport.
During the Ways and Means committee Wednesday, the Gary bill received a warm reception, as state Sen. Ed Charbonneau explained the bill’s intent as an economic benefit to the region. The legislation would allow a 1 percent local income tax, and provide feasibility studies for expanding the Port of Indiana into Lake County and a new trauma and academic medical center. It would also let Gary to access up to $3 million from the Gary Sanitary District.
Charbonneau noted that the collaborative effort on the Senate bill was something he had not seen in Northwest Indiana.“We’ve been struggling up in Lake County, and in Northwest Indiana,” he said, “but I think the stars are beginning to align. We have a tremendous cooperative attitude, and these are the tools that we’re hoping to provide for Lake County.”
But one piece of the bill would replace all Gary airport board members with people who have either business or aviation experience. Four members would be appointed by the city of Gary, one each by Lake and Porter counties, and one by the governor. The governor also can veto an appointee.
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said each of the five other major airports in the state has locally appointed board members. He said he supports removing all current appointed members and requiring experience to be on the board, but asked that the governor’s veto over board appointments be removed.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he disagreed with Brown. He would like to require administrative or business experience.
“We need people who know how to negotiate, and complete contracts,” Soliday said, “not whether they can fly a plane. This airport has a lot of potential if we can just get the right experience in.”
When committee members asked why the bill would have to require the governor’s approval, Soliday said the Gary airport is governed by an interstate agreement with Chicago.
Brown stood up and demanded a chance to respond.
“That is so degrading,” he said. “Of all the airports in the state of Indiana, this one has to have the governor’s approval? This is so important to my community, but I cannot go home to hear my constituents ask, ‘Why does the governor have veto power over our elected officials?’ ”
After the hearing, Soliday said he was surprised by Brown’s response.
“Not everyone is going to get what they want,” Soliday said. “There are two goals in negotiating, either everyone is equally unhappy, or everyone is equally happy. You rarely get the latter.”
Soliday, who serves as the assistant majority party whip, said losing the governor’s veto on appointees could kill the bill in the Republican-controlled House.
Brown says the legislation would not be at risk if the veto was removed.
The bill did not receive a vote in the committee, and additional changes are expected.