Many of you have already read about the successful completion of the 2003 legislative session. While success is always in the eye of the beholder, lets explore why I believe this year’s Session, which created a two year budget, was good for both our community and our state.
First, looking at the big picture, we are one of 45 states that are facing a serious financial pinch as a result of the ongoing recession. In fact, Indiana has lost more jobs per capita than any state in the country, so it is no surprise that state sales and income tax revenues are significantly down. The combination of a revenue shortfall combined with a recent legacy of over-spending has put Indiana, and most other states, in a world of hurt. That has meant trying to shape a budget within the limitations posed by the current economic circumstances. Small wonder, then, that we entered this year’s budget making session in January with expectations of cuts in the two dominant areas of the budget: education and Medicaid.
Fast forward to today, and we find that education spending has not only not been cut, but has been increased for both K-12 and higher education. As for Medicaid, it has been flat-lined, so while there is no increase, there are no actual cuts either. And all of this without a state tax increase. Not bad, considering neighboring states such as Ohio are proposing to slash up to $1 billion from their education budget, meaning major cutbacks in programs and teachers. That hasn’t been the case for our State, and for that we can be grateful. Our children’s future depends upon a sound, well-rounded education. We cannot and must not allow our schools to backslide. I believe the funding provided in this budget will prevent that from occurring.
Beyond taking care of our schools, the other great triumphs of the Session were the numerous economic development projects slated for northeast Indiana. After years of being on the outside looking in, and watching the Indianapolis area reap the benefits of state supported economic development projects while our area fought for scraps, a new day has arrived. Our community and region has become the beneficiary of some new clout at the State Legislature, and we took advantage of it. Through a very focused and deliberate approach by the Republican Senators representing our area, we were able to obtain state dollars for projects that should help make a significant difference for our local economy in the years to come. Specifically, we were able to gain financing for the following:
The Northeast Indiana Innovation Center……$6.5 million to build a business incubator that will spawn new high tech and biomedical industries for our area. This will be a collaborative effort between state and local government, IPFW, and the private sector.
IPFW…………….$14 million for a new medical research building that will give our area a true shot at building a medical research center for our region. Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Lafayette received similar support for biomedical and life sciences research, but this time, Fort Wayne won’t be left in their dust. It is also genuinely possible that getting the funding now for this project will allow us to leverage the state’s dollars with other federal and foundation grants, which could truly shove this piece of our economic development goals into high gear.
IPFW…………….$19 million for a new music building that will not only enhance the university’s cultural impact upon our community, but will also free up space to expand several other university programs that will help build IPFW into the major university we hope it will become in the near future.
The creation of a new CRED district, which will create up to $1 million dollars per year for 15 years for our downtown revitalization plans. This legislation was crafted collaboratively by myself, Senator Tom Wyss, John Stafford and Brian Bergsma of our Fort Wayne Business community, and an Indianapolis attorney. The result will create the ability for all cities in Indiana with populations of 35,000 or more to establish these districts. The legislation has been called the most significant economic development plan for Indiana’s cities in decades. The district is funded by capturing State income and sales tax dollars paid by businesses within the CRED district. Instead of sending these dollars to Indianapolis, they remain here for use in construction projects and other job creating endeavors.
All in all, we created over $55 million dollars in projects for our community. That is a major accomplishment in the face of these difficult economic times. But it is exactly what our hard-hit area needs in order to begin the turnaround for the local economy.
Some special thank you’s need to be doled out here. First and foremost, to State Senator Robert Meeks of LaGrange, a native son of Fort Wayne, who is our Senate Budget Chairman. It was his steadfast leadership, above all else, that allowed us to keep these projects in the Budget when the House Democratic leaders tried to pull them out. Senator Tom Wyss also deserves great kudos for his work on the Budget. As the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, he was able to participate in the budget making process, and was instrumental in keeping track of all the projects noted above. This is critical in the waning hours of the Session, when items can be inadvertently or intentionally omitted from the Budget bill.
Senator Bud Meeks, Bob Meeks’ brother and a key member of our northeastern Indiana Senate delegation, was also instrumental in helping to keep our group focused upon the many projects we were working on. Bud is a great advocate for our community and the entire northeastern Indiana area, and is an invaluable member of our legislative delegation. Thanks also to Representatives Jeff Espich, Randy Borror, Bob Alderman and Ben Giaquinta for their solid work in the House. Their bi-partisan efforts were critical to the success of these various projects. And finally, thanks to Brian Bergsma, the Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce representative who worked side by side with our delegation to help make these projects a reality. He is truly an irreplaceable member of our area team.
All in all, a great Session for our community, and for our part of the State. While we have a long way to go in rebuilding our regional economy, this was a key moment for all of us who love our area and want it to remain one of the truly great locations in the nation in which to grow up, work hard, raise a family, and grow old.