March 31, 2017-After a pair of bills that were universally opposed by local leaders passed out of Committee in the Indiana Legislature, Hammond Mayor Thomas Mcdermott, Jr. analogized the actions of downstate Republicans to those of the Japanese and German armies in World War II. Speaking on his paid radio show on WJOB AM1230/FM 104.7. “If the Germans invaded California in WWII, some people would be speaking German and others would be fighting. I guarantee you I would not be speaking German.” The statement came in response to a question regarding the legislature taking over local taxes through House Bill 1144 and Senate Bill 128. The Mayor continued “we are under martial law in Northwest Indiana.”
Both Democrat and Republican local officials have criticised the set of bills sailing through the Indiana Legislature. Regarding House Bill 1144, Munster Town Council President Joseph Simonetto stated “There is no one on the Council who doesn’t think this bill is a hot pile of garbage.” The Gary Common Council passed a resolution opposing House Bill 1144 and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, who is the only Lake County Mayor to sit on the One Region Board, called the bill “terrible.” Council President Ron Brewer went further saying “This bill will devastate our community.” Lake County Councilman Jamal Washington and Gary Council Member LaVetta Sparks-Wade have been strong critics of the regional transformation plan and recently went on Facebook Live to point out that the gist of the plan is to disenfranchise minority voters. (see the “Real Deal, Kitchen Edition
House Bill 1144 and Senate Bill 128 are both designed to take power from local governments and provide it to Visclosky’s failed Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA). Every year the Indiana Legislature provides more and more power to the RDA at the expense of local governments. The idea is being pushed by powerful special interests including NIPSCO, The Northwest Indiana Times and One Region.
The Mayor also spoke about the utter failure of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to address regional transportation. A caller asked “We are supposed to have an RDA, in my opinion it is supposed to provide regional transportation throughout the region and they don’t do that. Why don’t we have that?” “Can the RDA fund regional busing? Yes” Attorney Kevin Smith chimed in, “it is in the statute.” The Mayor continued “I used to spend $1M a year on busing, and when the RDA was sold, sort of like rammed down our throats, they said Mayor you are going to save a million dollars a year on busing . . .so they put regional busing in the RDA’s powers and they just chose not to do that.” The Mayor pointed out that Gary Public Transit has “turned into a regional bus system. “Gary is paying for regional busing. . . .It’s totally unfair to gary taxpayers. . . . they don’t care about Gary residents because they are Democrats and they don’t vote for them.”
Regional transportation is just one of the many failures of the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority. In 2009-2010, Visclosky’s RDA spent $13M of tax money in an attempt to consolidate local bus operations into a regional bus authority. In doing so, the RDA shut down local bus services in Hammond and other communities. The net result of the regional intrusion into local bus service resulted in less service for residents, higher costs and no regional transit. Despite the numerous failures, the Slager/Visclosky regional transformation plan provides more and more power to the un-elected RDA every year while disenfranchising voters in minority communities by making their elected leaders powerless.