Fight continues to save Riverboat funds


The committee votes have been close, but as the Indiana legislature continues its discussions on topics such as the state budget and Daylight Savings Time — the possibility of Switzerland County losing a large chunk of its riverboat revenues is still very real.

County Council president Mike Jones has been in Indianapolis lobbying against the state taking the funds, and on Monday morning he had the opportunity to testify in front of a Senate committee considering an amendment that would have redirected funds to the state.

“Senator Johnny Nugent gave a very forceful speech to the committee,” Mike Jones said. “He told the committee that he feels as though the state entered into a contract with the riverboat counties when they were placed there, and that to now take away a large percentage of the profits would be violating that contract.”

Mike Jones spoke to the committee, along with Rising Sun mayor Bill Marksberry and Charlie Fehrman, president of the Dearborn County Council. All made passionate speeches to the committee about the amount of money that it takes to continue infrastructure improvements necessitated by the riverboats, and asked the committee not to take anymore of the funds.

The state is already getting a portion of the riverboat funds, having capped the maximum amount of funds that riverboat counties can receive.

Mike Jones said that the Senate committee voted by a narrow 7-5 margin to approve the amendment and send it to the full Senate. The vote went almost by party line, with seven Republicans voting in favor of the amendment and four Democrats voting against the amendment.

The Democrats were joined by Republican Sue Landske of Crown Point, who broke party ranks to oppose the measure.

The measure now goes to the floor of the Senate, probably later this week, where Mike Jones said that he expects it to pass — again along party lines.

“I believe that our only hope of beating this is in the House,” Mike Jones said.

Riverboat counties did receive some good news later on Monday, when Republican Speaker of the House Brian Bosma announced that he was not going to call Senate Bill 274 to the floor for a vote because he acknowledged that he didn’t have the votes to get the measure passed.

That bill carried the amendment penned by Representative Troy Woodruff, Republican from Vincennes, that would have given every county in the state without a riverboat $1 million per year.

“That was certainly a battle victory,” Mike Jones said. “But we haven’t won the war by any means.”

But on the horizon is the bill authored by State Senator Robert Meeks that passed out of the committee on Monday.

That bill would take a big portion of each counties riverboat revenues — but in reality would hit Dearborn, Ohio, Switzerland, and Harrison counties the hardest.

That measure proposed last week would cap the amount of money that communities get and would pass those excess funds on to the state to help with its fund balances. If that measure were to pass, Switzerland County would stand to lose approximately $6 million per year.

Mike Jones said that local state representatives on both sides of the aisle have been critical in the process of fighting back attempts to take away riverboat funds.

Mike Jones attributed the defeat of the bill carrying Representative Woodruff’s amendment to local Representative Bob Bischoff being able to hold his Democratic colleagues together in opposing the bill.

He also noted that key members of the Republican party, including Representatives Cleo Duncan and Billy Bright and Robert Hoffman, were instrumental in defeating the bill.

“If it were not for them, this bill would still be out there,” Mike Jones said.

Mike Jones said that now is the time for individuals and groups who receive riverboat revenues to make their feelings known at the statehouse. He is inviting all interested people to attend this Saturday’s meeting of the Switzerland County Council so that he can update everyone on where different bills are heading; and so that a plan of attack can be formulated.

The meeting will be held at the Jack Sullivan Building of the Switzerland County Senior Citizens Center, and will begin at 8:30 a.m. Everyone interested in urged to attend.