No one should have expected smooth sailing when the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority cruised into the State Budget Committee meeting Tuesday, but state Sen. Luke Kenley shouldn't have acted like a self-appointed iceberg, either.
Kenley, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it isn't fair that all Hoosiers subsidize region projects when Lake County has yet to adopt a local option income tax.
While we agree with Kenley that Lake County needs an income tax to address unmet needs, including regional transportation, and to avoid borrowing money to pay for other essential services, Kenley is wrong about withholding funding from the RDA.
We should remind Kenley the Major Moves program was funded by northern Indiana, through the long-term lease of the Indiana Toll Road. How many toll roads exist in central or southern Indiana?
We should further remind Kenley that Northwest Indiana's casinos regularly and liberally tithe to the state coffers. Casino taxes are a major source of revenue for the state. Let us not forget the contributions of steel mills, refinery and other industries here, either.
Kenley suggested it might be better to have each region project go before the Legislature for approval. That happened with the Little Calumet River levee project, and each biennium it was a struggle to get enough money to pay for the state's share of the project.
And need we remind Kenley that the same legislation that created the RDA also created a new stadium for Indianapolis? There is solid justification for calling the Indiana General Assembly the "other" Indianapolis City Council.
The RDA was created as a shining example of how to create synergy in the region, with a single entity able to make relatively quick decisions on projects that hold promise in promoting economic development and boosting the quality of life. The RDA attracts federal and other dollars to match local and state money. It remains a good model for other regions.
The RDA's return on investment is $5.11 in economic impact for every dollar spent in the last seven years. That's good for the entire state, not just Northwest Indiana.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, stood up to Kenley on Tuesday, pointing out the billions of state dollars spent on Indianapolis projects, including sports stadiums, parks and other non-government buildings. "Lake and Porter County enterprises support a lot of other things that go on in this state," Tallian said.
Good for her. Northwest Indiana's delegation must unite behind state Sen. Karen Tallian's leadership on this issue.
The state currently pays $10 million a year to the RDA. Lake County, Porter County, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago each pay $3.5 million a year. There's already a lot of local skin in this game.
Drop the income tax argument, at least in this case, and continue to fund the RDA so its work can continue.