This past Tuesday, the Indiana Senate Tax & Fiscal Policy Committee unanimously approved HB 1398, Rep. Ed Soliday's package of administrative changes to the RDA. The committee also signed off one significant modification, an amendment that removed proposed changes to board qualifications.
House Bill 1398, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, mandates the RDA focus entirely on improving region transportation and infrastructure, or implementing the Marquette Plan for redevelopment of the Lake Michigan shoreline, instead of subsidizing corporate moves or other general economic development programs.
The measure, which now advances to the full Senate, also requires the State Budget Committee review RDA projects and obligates Hammond, East Chicago, Gary, and Lake and Porter counties to pay their annual $3.5 million shares of the RDA budget on time.
In response to concerns voiced by representatives of the Northwest Indiana Federation of Interfaith Organizations, work is underway on an additional amendment to the legislation which would add local hiring goals to the RDA's mandate.
On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony regarding the RDA's request for state funding for the West Lake Corridor expansion. The RDA is requesting $7.5 million a year for the next 30 years.
Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, a Democrat, and Portage Mayor James Snyder, a Republican, both urged the panel to include RDA funding for South Shore expansion in the state budget it is set to release April 9.
"As we ask for your help to move forward, I think you're seeing a different type of Northwest Indiana. You hear 'one region' often; we're putting action to those words in what we're doing here," Snyder said. "Because the success of west Lake County, the success of Gary, the success of Hammond is the success of Portage.
"Abandoning this would be a disaster."
Since our inception in 2006, the RDA has invested about $30 million in regional transportation projects, including new rail cars for the South Shore commuter rail line, and parking and station improvements for the ChicaGo Dash service. Commuters who use these services every day to travel to jobs in Chicago bring back a combined $430 million in personal income annually to spend on goods and services here in Northwest Indiana. Currently, the RDA is working with local, state and federal officials to expand South Shore service to Chicago. That expansion, the West Lake Corridor, would result in an additional $231 million in personal income for the regional economy.