RICH JAMES: Is it too soon to talk of new tax?

2013-05-19T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Is it too soon to talk of new tax?By Rich James
May 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Northwest Indiana has languished in mediocrity for far too long, largely because of an unwillingness to raise or spend money.

The pervasive attitude has been that as long as the steel mills were hiring, life was good. And it was.

While the mills are still the backbone of the region, they stopped being employment agencies more than 30 years ago.

There have been subsequent efforts to change the face of the region, but too often those plans never got off the drawing board. For some odd reason, those opposed to change get the most attention.

I’m talking about expanded commuter rail, which now is the subject of yet another study.

And then there is the Illiana Expressway, which in the last year has seen promising movement but isn’t yet a done deal.

And now there is increased talk about building a convention center in Lake County.

Each of the aforementioned projects requires a source of funding.

Unfortunately, the naysayers have said they don’t want anything built in their backyards. And they don’t want to pay for it — even if it is good.

Speros Batistatos, the president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, seems to be renewing his call for construction of a convention center in Lake County. He couldn’t be more right.

Batistatos is tired of seeing conventions go to Fort Wayne, South Bend, Bloomington and Indianapolis because Lake County isn’t equipped to handle big crowds.

“Failure to invest in a convention facility will hasten a lackluster performance in our industry, leaving rooms vacant, restaurant tables empty, and most importantly, people not working and therefore not spending their income in our local economy,” Batistatos said in a message to tourism proponents.

In the last few months, Lake County has lost the Indiana Music Education Association convention. Some 800 delegates buying 3,500-room nights amounts to a $1 million infusion, Batistatos said. And the Indiana Democratic Party also gave Lake County — the most Democratic in the state — a thumbs-down because of lack of space.

Given that the county just adopted an income tax, this may not be the best time to talk another tax. Or maybe it is.

A 1 percent food and beverage tax would be the least intrusion into the lives of Lake County folks. For a $30 restaurant bill, it would cost an additional 30 cents. If you can’t afford that, you ought to eat at home.

Other counties have put up a buck and are benefiting from convention centers.

Lake County shouldn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. We are better than most. We just need the chance to show it.

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

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