As a new year and a new session of the Indiana General Assembly begins, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry highlighted concerns this week, including education funding and city funding, that he hopes state lawmakers will soon address.
“I am very concerned about education in Fort Wayne and how the Statehouse is going to be able to address the funding of education,” Henry said. “Whether it's salary adjustments for teachers, or reimbursements to schools in general.”
Gov. Eric Holcomb for two years has said he plans to address teacher pay and promised to do so again during his State of the State address last week.
“When, not if – when we do this, we will be one of the best in the Midwest for teacher pay, and we'll be better able to attract and retain teacher talent, including attracting more minority candidates,” Holcomb said in his address.
However, the governor's proposed budget does not bring Hoosier teachers' compensation in line with the rest of the Midwest.
“(The Legislature) has a number of challenges in the education arena, which are going to affect Fort Wayne, since we have one of the biggest school systems in the state,” Henry said. “I, along with others in the community are very concerned about what's going to come out of the statehouse, ultimately.”
In addition to worries about the future of public school funding, Henry said he and other leaders throughout the region are concerned about “access to capital,” particularly funding to help bolster local businesses that have been ravaged by the pandemic.
Many localities are feeling the strain after a year of pandemic-related restrictions and closures, Henry said, particularly in the tourism, entertainment and hospitality industries.
“We have real concerns in that area and we need to talk to our legislators and the governor about how best to address not just those that have been affected by the pandemic, as far as small businesses, but how we are going to spur cities forward in economic development in general,” he said. “We still have businesses, developers and others looking to locate in our cities and we need to have the necessary financial means to make effective public-private partnerships.”
Henry also endorsed efforts to bring passenger rail back to northern Indiana, particularly as a thoroughfare from Chicago to the East Coast. This month, the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association announced Senate Bill 9, introduced into the Indiana General Assembly by State Sen. Dennis Kruse. If approved, that bill would create an Indiana Passenger Rail Commission tasked with promotion and coordination of train service throughout the state.
The organization also sent a letter to Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg asking for federal support.
But it's an expensive undertaking, Henry said, noting that “a couple (of presidential) administrations” have been asked to make northern Indiana a priority for rail service.
“Perhaps that's one reason why the previous two administrations had other things they wanted to invest in,” he said. “I understand that, but I think it can be something that will put Indiana on the map – Fort Wayne in particular.”