As the Indiana General Assembly begins its session on Monday, Northwest Indiana's residents — and, of course, their legislative delegation — should push for this agenda:
- Continued state funding for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. The locals already have skin in the game; the state should invest in it as well.
- Feasibility study for an academic medical center to operate in connection with the Indiana University School of Medicine in Gary.
- Establishment of a well coordinated statewide trauma care system. Northwest Indiana still needs a trauma center.
- Funding for medical education, to meet the increased need for new doctors created by Obamacare.
- Department of Child Services reforms including a commission on improving the status of children to recommend future reforms, along with a DCS oversight committee to ride herd on that troubled agency. Give prosecuting attorneys the ability to file and pursue cases, including the ability to file Child in Need of Services petitions. Provide follow-up care for children who need services even though a report of suspected abuse or neglect is not substantiated.
- Restoration of reduced funding for K-12 education, including funding for all-day kindergarten. The $300 million a year in cuts rankles, given the state's huge surplus.
- County government reform to bring the structure of local government all the way from the 19th century to the 21st, including a single county executive and consolidating various fiscal department heads into a single appointed position. This has been recommended for years.
- Expansion of student assessment programs already in place in Northwest Indiana to assure more students are college- and career-ready.
- Otherwise, put additional school reforms on hold until we see what effect the existing reforms will have. It's time for a breather.
- Support the state's casino industry, which is under pressure from competition in neighboring states.
- Require third-party hotel booking sites to collect and submit both state sales and innkeepers tax on rooms sold. Some do, many do not.
- Review funding for transportation programs to make sure matters don't get worse. An example is the $140,384 federal grant to Ozinga to convert six diesel ready-mix trucks to run on compressed natural gas. While that helps the environment, it means Ozinga won't pay a fuel tax for the wear and tear on the roads created by those heavy trucks. Should CNG be taxed the same as diesel and gasoline? What steps are necessary to close the funding gap for the state's transportation infrastructure needs?
This is a long list, but not complete. Your role as a resident is to ask your lawmakers to support this agenda and a strong region focus on other issues that might arise.