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Gov. Daniels visits Thea Bowman Academy
Senior Dominique White, right, chats with Gov. Mitch Daniels during the two-term Republican's visit Thursday to Thea Bowman Leadership Academy in Gary. Read more about Daniels' visit to the region charter school in Local on Page A5. John J. Watkins | The Times

MUNSTER | Gov. Mitch Daniels said he may be close to a decision on whether to run for president.

"I think I have got to make up my mind fairly soon," Daniels told The Times Editorial Board Thursday during a visit to Northwest Indiana.

"I don't think that I've waited too long, but I believe I should come to some decision. There are a lot of people waiting and I owe them an answer.

"The country is facing survival-level problems."

Daniels questions whether any new president could replicate nationwide the successes he's enjoyed as Indiana governor, upgrading the license branches of the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles or the state prisons of the Indiana Department of Correction.

"I'd love to tell you we could fix (those) the way we fixed the BMV, the way we fixed corrections, but I think I would be kidding you. But in terms of better stewardship of public money, I think (the next president) could make a difference," Daniels said.

He said the president needs the power of impoundment -- refusal to spend all the money the Congress budgets. He said as governor he has used impoundment to cut state spending and avert a billion-dollar deficit that would have taken place if the state had gone ahead with the General Assembly's spending goals, which were based on overly optimistic tax revenue projections.

Daniels said he is optimistic his goals for school and local government reform will be achieved through new legislation now brewing in the legislature as his term as governor comes to a close next year.

He said the state's charter schools and New Tech format, recently adopted by Calumet High School -- where class subjects are integrated and teaching is done in a project-based learning format -- are helping revitalize education. He said the state is preparing to put some failing schools under new management.

He said the effort to eliminate township government is running into opposition from both political parties. "Like so many good government initiatives, the benefits of the change are spread thinly over everybody. Those in opposition to the change are few, but very committed," Daniels said.

"Nobody is saying you don't continue (township) poor relief or fire service. If you had poor relief administered at the county level, still pretty local, and an office in the area with a lot of traffic, you would simply have one accountable official, not dozens of them."

Daniels praised Gary city officials for making public spending cuts the state has mandated under the property tax cap law.

"Gary has taken some pretty direct action. They deserve some credit for having done a lot. They are not quite there yet, and I don't doubt that there is more they can do and will have to do," Daniels said.

He said if legislation passes that could permit Gary to declare bankruptcy, it probably won't mean control of the city passes to state officials. "I'm not sure the state takes it over or simply supervises it. I call the legislation 'standby equipment' that you hope will never be used, but I do think it's a prudent thing to have it on the books -- a tool for making changes and reductions that otherwise are not happening."

Daniels said permitting a land-based casino or pumping state money into a new teaching hospital aren't his preferred way of growing Gary's devastated economy. He said he is encouraged the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is investing in improvements at the Gary airport.

"I have always thought the airport had the possibility to be the game changer. ... That is the single biggest shot Gary's got -- to get that going, the possibility of private-sector investment coming in around it, creating the kind of jobs that make it possible to pay for hospitals and local services.

"I continue to believe that one of the best things the city could do would be to see if there is a private entity to market it and not just to air traffic, but freight, charter, commercial, but also to develop and maybe give a little help to Gary's fiscal situation and possibly unlock that asset," Daniels said.

Daniels said efforts to encourage Illinois businesses to move to Indiana have generated interest.

"We are a low cost state in almost every way like taxes, cost of real estate. We are a 92-cents state when they index it to $1. Illinois is over $1. Your dollar goes a lot further in Indiana. We are investing like no state in America in transportation facilities, roads and bridges. You see $100 million of it up here. Over the long haul, this will trigger and attract new private sector investment," he said.


Lake County reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.