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House still debating how Gary airport board members will be chosen

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Updated: May 5, 2013 2:51PM



INDIANAPOLIS - The “Gary bill,” designed to offer an economic boost to the region, passed the House Ways and Means committee with some changes on who will conduct studies on a trauma center and port expansions.

Senate Bill 585 also offers a summer study committee to determine the need for the Port of Indiana to provide funds to Portage for services like fire and police, and removes the requirement implementing a Lake County income tax.

The bill’s author, State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said he was not a part of the discussion for the Portage funding amendment, and had no comment regarding the change.

The bill still contains access to $3 million in tax revenues from the Gary Sanitary District.

The amendment now sets the study for the trauma center in the hands of Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, and the port study under an infrastructure summer study committee. The RDA plans to search for experts outside the state to do the study and find suggestions on what location and classification of trauma center would work best for the region.

Other changes include speeding the studies for completion by the end of 2013, rather than in 2014.

While no changes were made to the governor’s power to veto the appointments to Gary Airport’s board, many members of the committee, including committee chair Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville, said there may be ways to find a suitable compromise on state oversight to the bill.

“I do think there’s a compromise out there,” Brown said, “I just don’t know what it is yet.”

The language grants the governor veto power, but he cannot choose the appointments for the four members from Gary, and one each for Lake and Porter counties

Committee members who spoke at the hearing agreed the airport has great potential for the region. State Rep. Steve Braun, R-Zionsville, said he once lived in Chicago, and knew a number of people in the suburbs and, “if there was a suitable airport and a better transit system, people would consider living in Indiana.”

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, explained the state already has representation on the airport board, as one member is appointed by the governor.

“We have put specific qualifications into the requirements, so elected officials know that they cannot just appoint their friends or supporters on the board,” Brown said. “They have to meet the minimum requirements before they can serve.”

If a number of appointments were denied by the governor, Democratic State Rep. Cherrish Pryor of Indianapolis pointed out, the bill has no means to ensure the seats are filled. That could paralyze the board’s ability to operate.

State Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Huntington, worried about governor getting to approve the airport board and have an appointed representative.

“It’s the only one of the state that would have this kind of oversight,” Leonard said, “I hope there will be a compromise.”



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