MICHIGAN CITY – More than 73,000 fewer children were enrolled in school last year in Indiana’s First Congressional District than were in enrolled in 1970, according to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky.
“That’s a lot of families who aren’t here now,” said the Congressman, who was the keynote speaker at the League of Women Voters of La Porte County’s annual meeting at Pottawattomie Country Club Saturday.
Visclosky, a Gary native, has been elected on the Democratic ticket to the House of Representatives for consecutive terms since 1985. He talked to the group about various issues facing Northwest Indiana and how national legislation could affect the region.
The impending South Shore Line double track project is expected to bring additional investment and growth to the area, but Visclosky was able to provide only a vague timeline for when it might come to fruition.
“We are getting close to the end,” he said. “But as I said at the ceremonial celebration in the park, it’s not the end, this is just another step in the process. … As we now have a rating from the administration, I do think we will – by the end of this year, early next year – have that last piece of paper signed and a commitment made.”
Michigan City and other municipalities, as well as the state of Indiana, have already committed to pay their portions of the project, but it remains stalled until the federal government gives the green light.
“The difficulty we have incurred here is with the national administration,” Visclosky said. “I never thought in all of the issues we have dealt with that we would have an administration that does not want to spend 1 cent on any new mass transit program in the United States of America. It’s not just the South Shore.”
The Congressman said a bipartisan bill that will be considered on the House floor later this week not only restores funding to mass transit projects such as the double track, but has increased the amount requested compared to previous years.
“I would suggest to you the administration is very close to the line in being violative of federal law in not expending money that Congress appropriated, the president signed into law, and then they refused to spend just because they don’t want to,” he said. “You have to follow the law in the United States of America.”
His statement elicited first laughter and then applause from the audience.
Visclosky also talked about the steel industry, which remains a foundation of the Northwest Indiana economy. He said regional steel production last year reached its highest rate since 2007; and employment in the steel industry increased last year as well.
And because a special investigation confirmed that legally-traded foreign steel was hurting both the national economy and security, Visclosky noted he supports the tariffs that have been put in place against the companies that participate.
However, he said, he has declined to testify against foreign companies that have plants in Northwest Indiana and the U.S. and that employ American workers at living-wage jobs.
“All of my life, I have been concerned about making sure that we have access for everyone to a good-paying, living-wage job,” he said. “And I would point out that, unfortunately … the real hourly wage in the United States of America today is 18 cents higher than it was 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation. Being on the other end of life, that’s not the country I grew up in.”
The Congressman said the next generation of workers is expected to receive just a half-cent per hour increase in the value of their work, and noted the gap between the wages paid to men and their female counterparts continues.
“In the First Congressional District in Indiana, for the exact same job, a woman makes 67 cents for every dollar a gentleman would make,” he said. “And the fact is of all the regions in Indiana, we are last. And as far as pay discrimination between the sexes, Indiana is third from the bottom of 50 states.”
Visclosky said that as this Congress approaches its six-month mark, he hopes to see it address the matter of disproportionate wages, as well as other problems everyday Americans face – like the soaring cost of pharmaceuticals and health care; inequitable tax breaks that were made permanent for corporations but temporary for individuals; violence against women; sexual assault in the military; the lack of access to childcare; the disenfranchisement of minority populations because of a weakened Voting Rights Act; infrastructure in need of repair; climate change and more.