Tempers flare over tourism portion of bill seen as vital to region
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent March 22, 2013 11:16PM
Updated: April 24, 2013 6:11AM
HAMMOND — It is all in a word.
Tempers are flaring over efforts to change the wording of Senate Bill 585 introduced in the House of Representatives by state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, as it pertains to the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority.
Controversy over the use of the word “region” as opposed to the word “county” in the legislation, allowing the SSCVA to change the way hotel and motel tax is distributed in Lake County erupted during testimony in the Indiana Legislature this week with lobbyists for Indiana Dunes Tourism.
Speros Batistatos, SSCVA president and CEO, told the agency’s board of directors on Thursday the SSCVA acquiesced to the request and agreed to remove the word region throughout the legislation because it is more important for the measure to move forward than to argue about semantics. However, additional requests that have come on behalf of Indiana Dunes Tourism requesting more wording changes accomplishing the same thing will not be met.
“We have given and given and acquiesced. I’m done,” Batistatos told the board.
SB 585 contains significant economic development legislation for the entire Northwest Indiana region including reshaping the Gary airport, implementing a 1 percent county income tax, funding a feasibility study for expanding the Port of Indiana into Lake County and a study on a potential teaching hospital and trauma center.
Controversy over the language on the regionally important legislation has drawn the ire of Soliday. In a series of emails sent Thursday night to Friday morning from Soliday to a Post-Tribune correspondent, which Soliday later said were not intended to be sent to her, he expressed his displeasure with Indiana Dunes Tourism lobbyist Brett Ashton and his client Lorelei Weimer, executive director of Indiana Dunes Tourism.
“I have informed the mayors and commissioners of Porter County that either Brett’s client is dismissed from her job by Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. or I resign on Thursday at 9:00. I am not kidding,” Soliday writes. Weimer is presumably the client.
Soliday delined to comment on the emails. Weimer could not be reached for comment.
Batistatos on Friday said he was unaware of Soliday’s email and was surprised by its contents.
He said the petty controversy over wording is putting in jeopardy one of the most important pieces of legislation to come out of the Statehouse in a decade for Northwest Indiana. Batistatos said he would hate to see the region lose a leader like Ed Soliday over the issue.
“I would truly hope this is a heat of the moment thing,” Batistatos said.
Staff reporter Matt Mikus and correspondent Amy Lavalley contributed to this story.