INDIANAPOLIS | Northwest Indiana's black state lawmakers want Gov. Mike Pence to veto legislation that would force Calumet Township to reduce its administrative spending and potentially enable Griffith to leave the township.
State Sens. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, told reporters Monday they have sent a letter to the Republican governor asking him to reject House Bill 1585.
Joining the two senators in opposing the measure — which passed the Republican-controlled House, 62-26, and the Republican-controlled Senate, 36-12 — were state Reps. Charlie Brown, D-Gary; Earl Harris, D-East Chicago; Vernon Smith, D-Gary; and several Indianapolis members of Black Legislative Caucus.
The group suggested that racism in general and specific hatred toward Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin, who is black, is at the core of the legislation.
"(Bill) 1585 certainly is one of the most discriminatory bills that we've had in this Legislature," Smith said. "It certainly is special legislation, which is prohibited by the courts, and it sets a dangerous precedent."
Rogers said if Griffith residents don't like how the township is being run they should make their case at the ballot box and not through "secession."
Under the legislation, if Calumet Township fails to reduce its spending this year, the Indiana Distressed Unit Appeals board would be empowered in 2014 to appoint an emergency manager to run the township, which includes portions of Griffith, Gary, Lake Station and unincorporated Lake County.
A continuing inability to reduce the township's tax rate used for poor relief to 12 times the state average, from the current 22.64 times, would permit Griffith, which receives about $10,000 in annual township services but pays $1.7 million in township taxes, to hold a 2015 referendum on whether to leave Calumet Township and join another.
An investigation by The Times found that Calumet Township spends more on poor relief than any other township in the state — mostly on staff costs.
The township has more employees than every other Lake County township combined and spent $45 million over the past 10 years to distribute $64 million in poor relief.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, said good government, not racism, is the reason he sponsored the legislation.
"If you're a champion of the middle class, you've got to look to help all the people of Calumet Township to see that their tax dollars are being spent wisely," Slager said.
The legislation likely will reach Pence's desk in early May.