A call to renew funding for the Regional Development Authority - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A call to renew funding for the Regional Development Authority

Policy Analytics. “RDA Return on Investment Analysis” 2012

The Regional Development Authority's return on investment proves that keeping it funded is key for a strong Northern Indiana region.

After leveraging more than $650 million in infrastructure and economic investments, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority faces losing its $10 million in annual state funding June 2015. Created in 2005, the Regional Development Authority has become a national model for coordinated regional investments. The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has long recognized the value of the authority’s model and its applicability to Chicagoland. MPC believes that it is imperative that local and state funding are renewed.

And we’re not the only ones. About 30 percent of the 80 community and business leaders from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in northern Indiana—a part of the geography served by the Regional Development Authority—named authority funding as the top priority for the coming 12 months. Leaders from around the region, including Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, have repeatedly noted the importance of the development authority to their communities and to the broader region. The Times of Northwest Indiana editorial board summarizes, “Not only is the RDA improving the quality of life in Northwest Indiana, which will attract future economic development, but it also is boosting the economy already.”

The impact of the Regional Development Authority is well quantified. In a 2012 return on investment analysis, the authority expected each $1 it invests to leverage $2.57 of additional funding and $5.21 in cumulative economic output. By 2025, these investments are projected to generate up to $770 million in economic output and support around 4,000 jobs.

The Regional Development Authority currently receives $10 million in annual allocations from the State of Indiana and $17.5 million from local communities, and has already made long-term, annual commitments of $6 million for economic development projects and $8 million for the South Shore rail extension. Without the state’s contribution, the authority faces difficult prioritizations with the $3.5 million left over.

There are currently two proposals on the table to extend funding, neither of which will be the complete solution:

  • HB1618 would provide $9.4 million to the Regional Development Authority through a state matching grant to fund the South Shore Line extension and transit-oriented developments. Although it ties funding to a specific project, this would allow the authority to meet its ongoing commitments of $8 million per year to the South Shore expansion and $4 million to the Shore Line operating costs over the life of the project. HB1398 is a complementary legislation that addresses local funding support for the RDA. Both bills passed out of the House and are on their way to the Senate.
  • Governor Michael Pence has proposed a new Regional Cities Initiative to establish regional development funds much like the RDA across the state.  Although the Initiative offers roughly $80 million over two years, as a new intiative, there will likely be process developments that may be distruptive to the successes and existing pipeline of the RDA. The distribution to multiple funds and the short term nature of the initiative may also limit the overall impact. Funding to the RDA should remain a separate priority.

It is important to find the funds within the entire Indiana budget for a model that has worked so well to catalyze regional growth and attract hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure and economic investments. Effective regional solutions are not only important in the current funding environment; they're indispensable.

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