Lawmakers have mixed feelings on RDA accomplishments

2011-06-26T00:00:00Z 2011-06-27T10:45:06Z Lawmakers have mixed feelings on RDA accomplishmentsBy Dan Carden, (317) 637-9078

INDIANAPOLIS | State Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville, helped devise the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, shepherded it through a contentious legislative process and sang its praises when it was signed into law.

Six years later, Dobis is singing a different tune.

"It's been a big disappointment in my mind," Dobis said. "It seems to me all they want to do is build parks -- this was meant to create jobs."

Dobis said he envisioned the RDA as the economic engine for Northwest Indiana in the 21st century: using locally generated revenue to access federal funds and moving quickly to develop regional assets such, as Gary/Chicago International Airport, that could spur private-sector growth throughout the region.

That hasn't happened, he said.

"They just study, and then don't like the study, so they hire another study," Dobis said. "I don't understand their mentality. I live in a different world; I like to get things done."

The Merrillville lawmaker said he's happy to see dirt finally moving at the airport but believes work there could have started years ago.

"There are things you can do to leverage -- we have a very powerful congressman, we have a president of the United States for the last three years that for all practical purposes touched our borders," Dobis said. "I'm frustrated."

On the other hand, state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said she is satisfied with the work of the RDA and believes over time it will produce the results envisioned at its creation.

"I know how the wheels of government roll and they don't always go as fast as people would like them to go, but as long as strides are being made forward I'm certainly not going to be critical," Rogers said.

Without the RDA, Rogers believes casino tax revenue generated in Northwest Indiana would have been siphoned off by state lawmakers representing central and southern Indiana communities and not stay in the region.

Instead, with the RDA, the entire region has benefited and will continue to benefit as RDA-directed projects come online, she said.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels shares Rogers' perspective on the RDA.

"They have done some good things," Daniels said, pointing to the RDA-led development of the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk. "I believe it has been a net positive."

The governor admits the overall progress of RDA projects has been somewhat slow but said through the RDA, Northwest Indiana residents and communities are learning to work together as a region.

"I am not discouraged," he said.


Times staff reporter Joyce Russell contributed to this report.

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