PORTAGE | A key NIRPC committee took a stand Friday against legislation that would give $4 million to the RDA for the South Shore commuter rail expansion to Dyer.
Senate Bill 367 closes a tax loophole that inadvertently allows people with significant investment income in Lake County to claim a tax credit designed to help low-income homeowners. The money comes from what casinos give toward local economic development.
A House committee agreed Monday the $4 million expected in annual savings from closing that loophole should be directed to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to fund the South Shore Line expansion project.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., chairman of the legislative committee of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission, called for the committee to oppose the legislation. The committee drafted a resolution Friday against the bill as it stands.
McDermott was “incensed” about the bill. He said SB 367 means Hammond would be paying $600,000 from the tax credit directly to the RDA.
“I take offense as an elected official,” he said. “We have a chance to have $4 million come back to Lake County. I know most units in Lake County are struggling — and it’s getting forwarded to the RDA.”
McDermott said if the bill becomes law, it violates provisions in a resolution NIRPC passed supporting the reauthorization of the RDA as long as the state maintains its level of support — $10 million annually.
“If the state says ‘We’re not going to donate anymore to the RDA’ we can come back and change our opinion,” McDermott said. "If they said they are committed to their $10 million and we heard that conclusively from the state, I think a lot of people would feel a lot better, because that’s a very important part of the RDA.”
While the legislative committee's Friday resolution opposes SB 367 in its current form, it does support the RDA and the South Shore's West Lake extension and urges localities to support it.
“I like that personally, because a lot of people are viewing my opposition to SB 367 as opposition to the West Lake expansion,” McDermott said.
“It clarifies that I do support the RDA. I do support the (rail) expansion. But I support it fairly. It’s got to be fair with everybody. Right now, the gun is to the head of the northern cities and it’s not fair. They support the commitment to the RDA but just object to this technique."
Dewey Pearman, public policy committee chairman for NWI Forum, a private business group with local companies as members, said his committee passed a resolution in favor of SB 367 and sees it as an opportunity to move the commuter rail project forward.
“The resolution asks this committee and NIRPC to endorse the current language in SB 367 as dedicating funding to the RDA specifically for the rail project,” Pearman said.
NIRPC's legislative committee will present its resolution opposing the $4 million going to RDA for the South Shore to the full NIRPC board March 7. If the full board approves the resolution, it will be sent to the General Assembly.
“This is the kind of thing reasonable legislatures are going to consider,” McDermott said. “It’s going to make a difference. I’m not saying it’s going to be the difference, but it’s going to be something they consider. And it’s important. We need to be in their ear and NIRPC is respected.”
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., has led the push for the South Shore extension, personally lobbying local officials across the region.
Half of the $571 million price tag for the project must be raised at the local or state level to qualify for the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program, which could fund the other half.
About $16 million annually will have to be committed locally for the life of the project to qualify it for the 50-percent New Starts match.