learned just a day ahead of the vote on Indiana’s state budget bill that a
section of it puts the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD)
board under the Governor’s purview.
governing body of the South Shore Line, had two locally appointed
representatives from each of the four counties it serves and three governor
appointees until Monday, when Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the budget bill.
The budget bill
cuts the NICTD board to five members----all governor appointed---as well as
dedicates $205 million in funding for the South Shore Line’s West Lake
Corridor expansion and Double Track project. $20 million of the $205 million
is budgeted as a contingency in case the Federal Transit Administration opts
to cut the federal portion of the project’s funding.
In addition to
cutting the board’s size, the bill stipulates that all five board members
must be office-holders, whereas two of the governor’s appointees in the past
represented riders and South Shore employees.
mixed, save for surprise.
Commissioner Jim Biggs (R-North) has a combined 15 years representing Porter
County on the NICTD board.
“I’m surprised, but
at the same time, I think that there’s reason to feel excitement because I
think we’re entering a new chapter with that railroad,” Biggs said.
Biggs said the
South Shore Line “doesn’t have its own taxing rate in the four counties it
serves,” and that the state has the kind of resources required to reliably
“I’m excited that
the state’s involved. I truly am,” Biggs continued. “I can’t find fault in
it, that they’re looking for more control. They have a lot of money on the
Biggs added he
hopes Holcomb retains one or two of the prior board members, to provide
continuity and institutional memory. He said he “won’t make it a secret”
that he’d like to continue on the board.
State Rep. Chuck
Moseley (D-Portage) was less than amused by the sudden change: “Once again
the state is reducing local control. What’s new?”
“I’ve got mixed
emotions,” Moseley said. “I’m extremely happy and excited that the state’s
stepping up to ensure this funding match is going to exist in the event that
the feds drop their match.”
Moseley, who said
the legislature wasn’t given more than a day’s notice of the change, took
issue with both the decision itself and how it was made.
disappointed that there wasn’t enough faith or trust in folks in the region
that are gonna be affected by it or in the existing board members to sit
down at the table with them and explain why and what they were going to do,”
“I’m not so
convinced that making a wholesale decision like that behind closed doors was
in the best interest of the taxpayers or of the whole state,” Moseley added.
Moseley was skeptical of explanations given for the change, namely that the
chain of authority for NICTD was confounding to the FTA.
answers, and I don’t know that we got very many,” Moseley said. “I didn’t
get what I believe was a satisfactory explanation for removing the existing
structure that was serving NICTD and the South Shore line well for decades.”
Council President, and Porter County’s other representative on the NICTD
board, Dan Whitten (D-At-large) was also surprised by the change, but his
reaction fell between Biggs’ excitement and Moseley’s dissatisfaction.
“It came as a
surprise, and it came as a disappointing surprise,” Whitten said of the
Boards reconstitution. “I don’t think this change serves much of a purpose.”
Whitten said there
are some really talented elected officials across the region who could both
serve on the board and appoint members to it, and he wondered: why change
“I think the county
council and commissioners have more of an understanding of county government
than the governor does,” Whitten said, “so it seems odd that he would remove
appointing authority from a body that has a hands-on understanding.”
“As County Council
President, I’d like to see the Council maintain authority over something so
important to the County,” Whitten said, though he “won’t lose sleep” over
Whitten and Biggs
differed on whether or not the new board composition will constitute a loss
of perspective from riders and employees.
The appointees who
spoke for riders and employees sometimes brought knowledge and vision that
officeholders don’t have, according to Whitten. “As an appointee of the
County Council, my greatest knowledge and insight stems from Porter County.”
appointments disappearing, Whitten said: “That’s gonna be a loss. I think
they brought something to the table.”
Biggs said elected
officials can be trusted do the right thing for riders, who are their
“As for the
employees, I will leave that up to the administration, and I will leave that
up to the unions that represent them,” Biggs said. “A talented
administration will take care of its employees.”
general manager of NICTD, for his part expressed strong confidence in the
commitment and abilities of the new board, however Gov. Holcomb may
For one thing,
Noland said each of the four counties in NICTD’s service territory --Porter,
Lake, LaPorte, and St. Joseph--will be represented on the new board
by one of its own elected officials. For another, no more than two of those
four counties’ representatives may be of the same political party.
The fifth seat on
the board will be filled, under the language of the budget bill, by the
Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Transportation, currently Joe
McGuinness. That means, Noland said, that “INDOT has a direct vested
interest in rail service.”
Noland added that
nothing in the language of the budget bill reconstituting the NICTD board in
any way changes the authority of that board. “The new board has the same
powers as the old board,” which--he said--has certainly in the past been
forced to make its own “hard decisions” about such thorny issues as fares,
schedules, and stations.
changed is personnel and how they’re appointed and who they are,” Noland
said. “I certainly understand the disappointment of the current board
members, because they serve with passion and do a great job and take great
pride in the South Shore service. But some of them could end up on the new
board, and I will serve whatever board that is running the organization to
the best of my ability.”
Noland did express
his gratitude for the $205 million commitment, formalized in the budget
bill, to the West Lake Corridor and the Double-Tracking projects. “Bottom
line: We are ecstatic,” he said. “The old NICTD board members, whatever
their disappointment may be about the reconstitution, are tremendously
“That sends the
strongest possible message to the Federal Transit Administration that the
state is totally behind those projects,” Noland said, and that could mean
all the difference in the nationwide scramble for federal matching grants.
“For our ability to be competitive, we needed to have those funds available.
This is our one shot to get those projects up and running and not be
delayed. It’s the state saying ‘We continue to be all in, even if it means
we have to provide additional money.’ That is so important.”