UPDATE: Pence seeks fourth state port for Indiana

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence wants the state to build a port on the Ohio River in southeastern Indiana, a move he said could “unleash enormous economic investment” throughout the region.

In his State of the State address Tuesday night, Pence called on the Ports of Indiana—a state agency run by a seven-member commission—to “vigorously” explore building what would be the state’s fourth port.

“Infrastructure is more than roads,” Pence said. Indiana’s ports have been “spectacular catalysts for job growth.”

The state’s three existing ports are on Lake Michigan at Burns Harbor in northwest Indiana and on the Ohio River at Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon in southern Indiana. The ports areon two key freight arteries—the Great Lakes and the Ohio-Mississippi river systems. That means that while Indiana is 600 miles from an ocean, the ports offer companies throughout the region access to international shipping options.

More than 60 companies—including firms that process or distribute grain, coal, fertilizer, minerals and steel—operate 2,600 acres at the three port locations. About 800 acres are available for additional development.

Indiana's three ports contribute more than $6 billion per year to the state economy and support more than 51,000 jobs, according to the Ports of Indiana website. In addition, the agency says the ports’ activities annually contribute $2.9 billion in wages and salaries to Indiana workers and $271 million in state and local taxes.

Pence’s call for a fourth port was one of the only unexpected items in his fourth State of the State speech—the final address of his term. He is seeking reelection.

It was also one of the only items in the speech not criticized by leading Democrats, including House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, who characterized most of Pence’s speech—which touched on economic development, health care program HIP 2.0, transportation funding needs and the state’s drug abuse problems—as “page after page of stuff that he claims to have done.”

“There was little said tonight that should make any Hoosier feel satisfied,” Pelath said. “There was no prescription for building our economic future.”

Pence’s speech also addressed another key legislative issue: improving Indiana’s roads and bridges.

Pence touted his $1 billion plan to improve roads and infrastructure, as well as a plan from Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, to invest $400 million in local roads.

But he came out strongly against a cigarette- and gas-tax increase to provide long-term road funding, a proposal backed by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis.

“I think when you have money in the bank and the best credit rating in America, the last place you should look to pay for roads and bridges is the wallets and pocketbooks of hardworking Hoosiers,” Pence said.

Bosma said he wasn’t surprised by Pence’s position but disagreed with it.

“Honestly, the concept that we need a lot of road investment and Hoosier taxpayers shouldn’t pay for it, I find it to be an anomaly,” Bosma said. “We’ll work through it.”

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