MERRILLVILLE – Why does Lake County keep embarrassing itself smack dab in the middle of the General Assembly? No wonder downstate Republicans are often unwilling to give Lake County money when folks come hat in hand.
I and others have sometimes criticized the state for giving Lake County the cold shoulder. But, alas, I can’t criticize the state for what it is about to do. Some Lake County towns and cities are about to mess up the work U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Merrillville, has done for the last three years to bring South Shore Railroad’s West Lake Corridor to reality.
Visclosky has worked doggedly to get 20 Lake County municipalities to commit at least a third of their County Economic Development Income Tax over the next 30 years to building the nine-mile rail line.
Now, Merrillville has voted to reduce its pledge from 22% of its CEDIT to 8%. Gary, too, is considering reducing its commitment and Lake Station Mayor Christopher Anderson has said the city can’t afford to honor its pledge. Five other communities, including Hammond, have yet to make a pledge.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott has yet to sign the interlocal agreement and hasn’t pledged any money, even though his city, the county’s largest, is awash with cash from its casino. McDermott went so far as to say the County Council should repeal the tax and starve the planned new rail line.
State government will contribute $6 million annually for the next 30 years, the NWI Regional Development Authority will kick in $10.5 million annually for the next 30 years, and the RDA is making a one-time $20 million contribution for engineering. The federal government, thanks to Visclosky’s efforts, will pay half of the projected $1 billion cost.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, has legislation pending to have the state intercept money that would go to the municipalities to ensure the rail project got paid. God bless Ed Soliday. Some of those balking argue that the new line would be of little benefit to their communities. The new line, however, would enhance the quality of life across the county and benefit all.
Lake County for too long has been parochial in its vision. It’s time to stop.

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years.