Most of the time, when you see pictures of Indiana in magazines or other publications, the scenes are beautiful cornfields at sunset, a red barn or a basketball hoop on a garage. These are classic Indiana images.
Yet, here at the Statehouse, urban interests are often the most widely lobbied and explored. While it is true that many social ailments tend to gather in urban areas, such as drug abuse, violence and poverty, rural communities have their own unique problems that are often underrepresented in Indianapolis.
Last week marked the first meeting of the new Rural Caucus of the Indiana General Assembly. The caucus includes a bipartisan group of state senators and representatives (including me) from rural regions of Indiana. The hope is that we will be able to shine some light on rural issues here at the Statehouse.
Some issues that we plan to discuss in upcoming meetings:
Recently, I've come face to face with many instances of the rural voice being silenced or overlooked.
The Kernan-Shepard recommendations for local government reform are one notable example of this. These reform proposals neglect to consider that what is good for urban counties won't work in smaller, more rural counties in our state.
Everywhere I go, people ask me what we can do to improve the condition of our local roads. This is something I'm very interested in, too, because I have to travel the same roads they do. Also, I serve on the House Roads and Transportation Committee.
With all the federal stimulus dollars allocated to fund state road projects, many hoped for some improvements in our east-central neck of the woods. However, early projections aren't looking good for our region.
Indiana will receive about $657 million in highway funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but the current bid list from the Indiana Department of Transportation shows that very little of that money will be invested in improvements to our roads. In most cases, our rural lanes don't qualify for the stimulus dollars.
One of my top goals is to work with the rural caucus to make sure we are able to bring federal stimulus dollars to our region, where improvements are needed badly.
In my view, this is yet another example of government focusing efforts on urban improvements and neglecting rural, less populated areas.
Looking ahead, I'm encouraged by this new Rural Caucus, and I'm proud to serve as member. I will keep you informed on our progress as we begin to meet more this session.