GUEST COMMENTARY: NWI is isolated from rest of Indiana

2012-02-19T00:00:00Z 2012-02-19T01:42:19Z GUEST COMMENTARY: NWI is isolated from rest of IndianaBy Mitch Daniels nwitimes.com
February 19, 2012 12:00 am  • 

I appreciate The Times offering me a fifth annual opportunity to write a special message about this special corner of Indiana in which the paper and its readers live. This is the only newspaper or place in the state where I prepare a particular New Year statement, but that's entirely appropriate.

It makes sense not just because of the many uniquenesses of Northwest Indiana; after all, every region of our state can claim its own. This yearly submission is especially fitting because of the informational isolation booth which Calumet Region residents inhabit.

In no other part of Indiana do people receive so little information about the state where they live and pay taxes; things virtually every other Hoosier knows, even the most attentive resident of Gary or Valpo or Crown Point has a hard time discovering.

It's no one's fault, of course. The area's news coverage is heavily dominated by Chicago media and, with only a small percentage of their viewers living in Indiana, it rarely makes sense for their papers and TV stations to cover a Northwest Indiana story, let alone something happening in the capital or downstate. One major source of information -- that delivered during statewide political campaigns -- is effectively nonexistent in Northwest Indiana, because of the prohibitive cost of Chicago media advertising.

Aside from one public television station, and a couple of brave but small radio outlets, area residents have The Times and one other paper to bring them any facts about their home state. If you're reading this, it probably puts you in the top few percent of informed residents in your community.

Consequently, we find that people in the region hold very different views from their fellow Hoosiers. That's no surprise; start with different (in this case, fewer) facts, and you'll come to different conclusions.

In every public opinion survey, people in Northwest Indiana differ by 10 to 15 percent from all other Hoosiers. Residents everywhere else are more positive about the condition of the state, more optimistic about the future, and see wider differences between trends in Indiana versus the rest of the country.

Here are some examples of things most Hoosiers know, but people in Northwest Indiana often don't:

• Indiana has the lowest taxes in decades, and the lowest property taxes in the country.

• Indiana has the nation's No. 1 road-building program, now in its sixth straight record-setting year, all without a penny of new taxes or borrowing.

• Indiana has become one of the top handful of states attractive to new business, and broken the old records for new jobs and investment in each of the last seven years.

• Indiana is in its greatest era ever of land and water conservation, with 50,000 acres newly protected in the last seven years, including the three largest wetlands conservation projects in state history.

• Indiana's air and water are the cleanest in our lifetimes, the cleanest by far since measurement began. In 2011, every Indiana community met the national air quality standards for the first time in the history of the Clean Air Act, and we became the only state with zero backlog of old (meaning less strict) environmental permits.

• Indiana's child welfare system, a few years ago perhaps the nation's worst, has won top national awards the last two years for protecting our kids and, as often as possible, keeping families together.

• Indiana has the most efficient state government it has ever had, probably the most efficient in the nation. With the fewest state employees per capita in the country -- the fewest the state has had since 1975 -- service levels are up everywhere, from the state parks to the Department of Revenue to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Department after department has won national best-in-class awards.

And that's just a sample.

For seven years, I have tried to compensate for the Northwest Indiana information gap with shoe leather. I have made more than 100 trips to the area, including some 70 to Lake County alone. I have heard a thousand times, "You've been here more than the last several governors put together."

But, I've learned, it just doesn't suffice. The Times does a great job, but can't cover every statewide story, and it can't reach everybody.

On my recent visits, I find there is one thing that folks in the region do seem to know, and that is that Indiana is unusually strong from a fiscal standpoint. We have a triple-A credit rating, the first in state history and one of the few left in America. We have an honestly balanced budget and a healthy savings account to protect taxpayers against the next national economic slump.

But they know these particular facts only because of the financial agony of Illinois, a daily story out of Chicago that often includes mention of the sharp contrast between the conditions of the two states.

I hope one day new technology or some enterprising information merchant will invent a way to get more regular and complete information to the people of Hammond, Highland and Hobart, and the rest of our great Northwest corner. Until then, thanks and congratulations for reading The Times; it marks you as an engaged and well-informed resident of an area where that takes extra effort.

Mitch Daniels is governor of Indiana. The opinions expressed in this column are the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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