RICH JAMES: Some have vision, others have tunnel vision

2014-03-26T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Some have vision, others have tunnel visionBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 26, 2014 12:00 am  • 

The sign in the locker room said, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Too often in public life, however, when the going gets tough, elected officials find a way to bail out.

Such is the case, in part, when it comes to getting local officials to commit a portion of the new county economic development income tax for extension of the South Shore Railroad to Dyer.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is asking each of Lake County’s 19 municipalities to make the pledge.

Interestingly, the mayors of three cities whose residents likely wouldn’t use the new line have responded favorably to Visclosky’s plea.

Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor, Lake Station Mayor Keith Soderquist and Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura have said their residents might not benefit from the Dyer route but will from future extensions.

While those officials have vision and the guts to commit financially, others are hemming and hawing.

They are saying their residents either don’t want their money going to the South Shore extension or the issue ought to be decided by the voters.

Griffith Town Council President Rick Ryfa said, “The sentiment from the people who elect us is overwhelmingly against it.”

And Cedar Lake Councilman John Foreman said, “It should be (asked) of the people in a referendum.”

Oh, how wrong they are.

Local government would grind to a halt if officials called for a referendum or hid behind what the boys had to say at a Friday night poker game every time a sticky issue came up.

There are plenty of other misguided reasons why some think an expanded commuter rail system is a bad idea.

Griffith Councilman Glen Gaby said, “Why so quickly? We haven’t even seen the money, and you want us to spend (it).”

Visclosky aptly told Gaby this has been talked about for 27 years.

Eleanor Ingram, a Griffith Democratic precinct committeewoman, said, “My people say why pay for something I have no use for. I need money for a car and my taxes.”

Ingram isn’t alone in wrongly thinking the economic development tax can be used for personal reasons or to spruce up a town.

Dyer resident Cathy Lareau said just 19.8 percent of Lake County residents commute to jobs in Chicago. “This is a high price tag for all Lake County residents to incur and for the next generation to inherit.”

Karen Mason told the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission that most Northwest Indiana workers remain blue collar, and more access to jobs in Chicago won’t help them.

If only Lareau and Mason took time to think.

The new rail line is about the next generation and making it more likely that more Lake County residents can live here and pursue white collar jobs in Chicago.

Call it vision.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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