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Rich James: NWI lawmakers could make an impact in 2012

Rich James

Rich James

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Updated: January 3, 2012 9:02AM



The start of the General Assembly each year is pretty much like opening day of the baseball season — all slates are clean and optimism runs high.

Such will be the case come Jan. 4 when the Legislature launches the biennial short session that by law must end by mid-March.

The 17 representatives from Lake and Porter counties could be a force in the Statehouse just based on their numbers.

And they could be an even greater force for Lake and Porter counties — which is what they were elected to do — if they came together and stayed that way, even if they would have to cast some votes that they really didn’t want to make. Compromise for the common good is the nature of politics.

I first watched them in action some 30 years ago when the Legislature was one of my primary responsibilities.

Our delegation wasn’t much good back then. I remember writing that a few were good, more were bad and some didn’t have both oars in the water.

And wouldn’t you know it, one of those who had the boat going in circles asked me what I meant by the oars comment.

Some of the folks I covered back then are still there. And some of them need to go. About the only thing some of them do is make sure they don’t cast a vote that would jeopardize their re-election.

And although virtually every legislator will tell you it is written in stone that nothing of significance can be accomplished in a short session, it’s time someone tried. They are getting paid, so the least they can do is try.

Northwest Indiana has a litany of vital projects that should be addressed if only the delegation would coalesce and say, “Let’s do it.”

What I would like to see them tackle — and I pretty much list them in order of preference — are:

1. The elimination of the levy freeze for local government in Lake County.

To tell local government units here they won’t get any new money from year to year because the county won’t adopt an income tax is punitive and likely unconstitutional. And to think our legislators were part of that is criminal.

2. This one is the kind of thing that brings some legislators to their knees because it involves the T-word.

Yep, the legislators need to authorize a tax as a permanent funding source for local bus service in Lake and Porter counties.

The legislators must speak for the riders — those folks who are scratching out a living and don’t have time or a venue to make themselves heard. Take away their buses and they have little hope left.

3. A funding souce is needed for commuter rail expansion. The issue has been studied to death and it is way past time to run new passenger rail from Valparaiso and Lowell to Chicago.

Northwest Indiana has to break out of the Dark Ages when it comes to transporation. No one is going to do it for us.

U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky continues to hold the federal share for the expansion.

As Visclosky has said, it is part of the legacy this generation should leave for the area.

And without better transportation, this area will continue to be known as a part of the rust belt.

4. A land-based casino for Gary. It would give a boost to a city that has a myriad of financial problems — most of which were caused by outside forces, not city officials.

And, isn’t it time the people of Indiana grew up and acknowledged there have been casinos here for 15 years and it really wouldn’t matter if the blackjack table was sitting on land or a boat.

Some would call that an expansion of gambling. No, it’s a good business practice, which was the intent of the casinos in the first place.

5. Money for Merrillville. The town, which may still be the largest in Indiana, was formed in 1971 and immediately got caught up in the “Bowen tax freeze” that limited the amount of money municipalities can raise from year to year. The town started with an incredibly low levy and never has been allowed to recover.

6. As long as we are digging up money for this and that — and we can’t forget that nothing comes without a price — this area needs a full-scale convention center.

While that is a full plate, it shows the depth of the needs in this corner of the state.

Wouldn’t it be nice for once for local legislators to say they did this or that for Northwest Indiana as opposed to saying they blocked anything that had a price tag — essentially throwing up a wall in the face of progress.

Rich James’ column appears on Friday.



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