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How Senate Bill 0585 Threatens the NWI Economy

By Patrick Drennan
On April 2, 2013

On Feb. 26, 2013, Senate Bill 0585 passed the senate with a vote of 50 to zero. Designed by Senator Ed Charbonneau of Valparaiso, the bill proposes land based casinos for the area, a level one trauma center in Northwest Indiana, and the control of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board to Governor Mike Pence. Although the region could do without another casino, the most troubling part of the bill is the provision that gives control of the airport authority board to Governor Pence.

What this means is that the governor would have to approve each board member and would have veto power over any board member proposals. This ultimately gives him the authority to delegate the control of the airport to anyone he substitutes for a vetoed appointee. Furthermore, board members have ultimate financial and policy making responsibility over the airport, which could mean important decisions like who can work at the airport could be decided by individuals who aren't even from Northwest Indiana to serve their own interests.

In other words, the provision calls for a state takeover of the airport which has been developed for years by the city of Gary. Currently undergoing a $166 million runway expansion project, over ninety percent of the work being done on the project is being given to contractors outside of Northwest Indiana, and if the governor assumes control of appointing board members, that could perpetuate already damaging employment policies gravely affecting the community and its workers.

While the board remains at seven members as established by the city of Gary, the current airport board terminates on Sept. 1, 2013. If the bill passes in the House of Representatives, then that means that as soon as in five months, control of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority board could be taken from the city in which it stands.

However, there may be severe legal ramifications if the bill becomes law. As it is drafted now, the senate bill only applies to the Gary/Chicago International Airport in giving the governor approval of any appointee to the airport board, and that qualifies the bill as "special legislation." Special legislation is a legal term that refers to acts of a state legislature which apply only to a specific individual, entity, or location. Such legislation is deemed unconstitutional in the state of Indiana if a general rule could apply. That's to say that if Ed Charbonneau wants to provide the governor with oversight over the Gary/Chicago International Airport, the governor would have to have that oversight of every airport in the state.

The bill could go forward and pass, but perhaps would be subject to review of the Indiana Supreme Court who could strike it down. Something else standing in the way of SB 0585 is that the bill could possibly breach the Gary/Chicago Airport Compact which was the basis of the formation of the airport's authority board. Since the airport serves the Chicago Metropolitan area, it is therefore an interstate entity, leaving the governing authority to be left to the city of Gary, not the state of Indiana.  

Despite these legal roadblocks, there are ways that legislators can circumvent them. One way the burden of special legislation is typically overcome is by specifically describing the community or entity in great detail without actually mentioning its name. So there are many factors at work that keep the fate of the Gary/Chicago International Airport as well as the fates of employment prospects for Northwest Indiana workers ambiguous.  

What is certain is that the provision that provides Governor Mike Pence state control of the Gary/Chicago Airport Authority undermines the right to self-governance, and if passed into law, would further harm communities that are historically disparaged and distance them from economic benefit. Northwest Indiana communities are already being deprived of employment opportunities due to the lack of participation from the Regional Development Authority in securing jobs for the airport expansion project, and the situation could get worse if the state assumes control of the airport.

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