NIRPC wants local communities to use funds for transit

2014-03-07T14:30:00Z 2014-03-08T22:59:07Z NIRPC wants local communities to use funds for transitKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission on Friday sent a strong message to state legislators that proceeds from closing a tax loophole should go to local communities and be used for mass transit, including buses.

By an 8-0 vote, the commission's executive board opposed turning an estimated $4 million per year generated by closing the loophole over to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, as proposed in bills currently before the General Assembly.

The RDA wants to use the money to help fund the proposed South Shore extension to Dyer, while local community representatives Friday said they want it to fund mass transit across the board, which could include the South Shore extension.

"It's about principle, people," said NIRPC Chairman and Hobart Mayor Brian Snedecor. "That's what we are doing today. We want to work with our elected officials downstate. We're not picking a fight."

The resolution approved by the executive board Friday also reiterated NIPRC's support for the South Shore extension and expressed appreciation for the General Assembly's effort to find a way to continue the state's $10 million in annual funding for the RDA.

The legislative provision directing the $4 million to the RDA is contained in Senate Bill 367. Different versions of the bill already have passed the Senate and House. The two versions now must be reconciled in committee and the final bill voted upon before it can go to Gov. Mike Pence for signing.

SB 367 raises the $4 million by closing a tax loophole that allows people with significant investment income in Lake County to claim a tax credit designed to help low-income homeowners. The money for the credit comes from money casinos hand over for local economic development.

Previous to the creation of the tax credit more than a decade ago the $4 million went to the local communities that hosted the casinos and Lake County.

Friday's NIRPC vote may or may not influence state legislators but still could be significant. That is because South Shore extension boosters, including U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, have been soliciting local communities to donate a portion of their County Economic Development Income Tax proceeds to the cause.

NIRPC Secretary and Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen said he would "strongly reconsider" the county's pledge of $2 million in economic development funds for the South Shore extension if the $4 million from closing the loophole goes to the RDA.

Allen pointed out the idea to close the loophole originally evolved within county government two years ago when it was looking for a way to continue funding for regional bus service. But the idea did not gain traction in the General Assembly.

"We know better how to spend our money. We are not children," Allen said.

Friday's meeting was called after NIRPC's legislative committee, chaired by Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., passed a resolution last week opposing the part of SB 367 directing the tax loophole savings to the RDA rather than local communities and Lake County.

The full NIRPC commission was one short of a quorum Friday because only 26 members showed up. So the vote ended up in the hands of the executive board, which can act in the full board's place. The executive board members voting represented communities from all three counties in NIRPC.

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