Have you ever wondered about the editorials you see Sunday through Friday on the Opinion page? We'd like to tell you who we are and what our agenda is for 2014.
First, who we are:
- Christopher T. White, publisher.
- William Nangle, executive editor.
- Doug Ross, editorial page editor.
- Deb Anselm, general manager, Porter County.
- Robert Blaszkiewicz, assistant managing editor - operations.
- Crista Zivanovic, assistant managing editor - news.
- Dennis Rittenmeyer, executive director, One Region.
Editorials represent the consensus view of this group of individuals.
The following are topics we will be focusing on, our editorial agenda for 2014.
Build transportation infrastructure
A healthy transportation infrastructure is the lifeblood of commerce.
But that transportation network needs major improvements. That includes more than just filling potholes, of which there are way too many.
It also includes replacing the Cline Avenue Bridge, a vital connection between Chicago and Northwest Indiana that was severed in 2009 and has yet to be replaced. It should have been built with state funds and reopened as a free bridge, but even with plans to build a private toll bridge there, the process is moving far too slowly.
The Illiana Expressway is, we believe, at long last moving closer to fruition. That outer-ring expressway will improve safety by relieving congestion on existing major east-west roads, including U.S. 30 and the Borman Expressway.
The South Shore Line extension to Dyer, initially, and eventually to Lowell and Valparaiso, will be Northwest Indiana's biggest economic development project since Bethlehem Steel was built in the 1960s. It must finally be funded this year.
Improving access to high-paying jobs in downtown Chicago will boost Northwest Indiana's economy. It will also, eventually, spur development along the South Shore route.
Let us not forget the importance of buses. A strong regional bus service is essential for not just social justice but also for the region's economy.
It is important to be able to match up willing and qualified workers with available jobs, wherever in Northwest Indiana they might be.
Renew RDA authorization and funding
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is a major catalyst for change in the region. It leverages local and state dollars to attract federal and private investment in the region. So far, the return on investment is impressive.
The RDA is focused on improving public access to the Lake Michigan shoreline, improving public transportation options, developing Gary/Chicago International Airport and helping bring about game-changing economic development projects.
The state of Indiana has chipped in $10 million a year to the RDA. That contribution must continue as the RDA is reauthorized for another decade. Much remains to be done in the region.
Restructure county government
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels commissioned a bipartisan review of local government operations. The failure to fully implement those recommendations, outlined in the Kernan-Shepard report, is one of his biggest disappointments.
County government needs to be streamlined along the lines of municipal government. A city has one mayor, but the county counterpart is three commissioners. There are too many elected bureaucrats, too. Save elections for people who set policy and combine related functions like the treasurer, auditor, assessor and recorder offices.
Implement the Marquette Plan
The RDA has begun transformational projects along the Lake Michigan shore, improving public access to the coveted shoreline with major park projects in Whiting, Hammond, Gary and Portage, among other developments.
That work must continue. Industries along the shoreline provided lucrative jobs, but the goal should be to reclaim public access to the lakefront as land becomes available.
Improve the region's health
Hoosiers are unhealthy, and Northwest Indiana residents are worse off than the average Hoosier.
Improving our health begins with improving access to health care. That comes in many forms.
For one, Indiana should expand Medicaid, capturing federal dollars to provide insurance to more Hoosiers — and creating thousands more health care industry jobs in the process.
The state also must ramp up production of doctors and nurse practitioners to meet the increased demand that comes with improved insurance coverage.
Northwest Indiana is a heavily populated corner of the state, yet it lacks ready access to a major trauma center. It's time.
It's also time to provide a medical teaching facility. The Indiana University School of Medicine branch at Indiana University Northwest in Gary is now a four-year school. Now provide the medical students, and the public, a teaching facility.
Revitalize the urban core
The abundance of abandoned buildings in Northwest Indiana's urban core is a deterrent to economic development and a major public safety hazard. Knock them down.
Economic development must be encouraged. Creating jobs and building the tax base in those cities is key to their turnaround.
Improving public safety is also crucial for the revitalization of the urban core. Fight drugs and gangs, in particular, to make these cities not only safer for their residents, but also more attractive to new residents and visitors.
Education is a lifelong process, so Indiana should plan for state support for preschool. It should quickly mandate school attendance beginning with kindergarten, too. It is shameful to profess to be concerned about children without making kindergarten mandatory.
Indiana also needs to bring common sense to education standards. Students who are homeschooled, not just those who attend public or private school, should be tested to show they are achieving competency expected of children their age.
Common Core standards should be retained in Indiana, too. Hoosier students should be compared against their peers nationally, and it takes a national set of standards — agreed upon by state education officials, not set by the federal government — to provide for fair comparisons.
We also encourage additional linkages between colleges and universities in Northwest Indiana. Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University Northwest are to be commended for sharing a new building to be erected between the two Gary campuses that already are close to each other.
Improve regional cooperation
Parochialism must end. Greater cooperation between governments and people is needed.
We are seeing good and bad examples in E-911 consolidation, for example. Governments are coming together, but there are foot-draggers who need to learn to look at the common good, not just their own self-interests.
One Region and the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission are two examples of how to bring people together to work toward common goals. There are many other examples. This work must continue.
The Times Editorial Board's agenda, outlined above, is ambitious, we recognize. But progress is being made, and progress must continue to be made, to improve the quality of life here.