INDIANAPOLIS | Lake County may be more likely to adopt an income tax and Gary could become home to a new trauma hospital and port under legislation that breezed through the Indiana Senate on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 585, which now goes to the House, was approved 50-0 — continuing a string of unanimous votes by two Senate committees in favor of the proposal sponsored by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.
"This has truly been a bipartisan, collaborative effort both here and up in Northwest Indiana," Charbonneau said on the Senate floor.
The measure changes existing state law by allowing Lake County to spend most of the proceeds of a 1 percent county income tax, instead of being required to use that revenue to reduce property taxes.
According to the legislation, a quarter of the new tax would have to be used for economic development projects. That could include a South Shore extension.
The Lake County Council must still approve an income tax for it to take effect.
Charbonneau said he hopes changing the revenue distribution "will spur action," especially because enacting an income tax would remove a 2007 limit on property tax collections imposed by the state as punishment for not having a county income tax.
"With the property tax caps there have been significant cuts that have taken place in Lake County, so it's time maybe for the council to take action. We're giving them one more option," Charbonneau said.
The Gary portion of the legislation requires state agencies study the need for a trauma center and teaching hospital in Gary, as well as a possible second port on Lake Michigan.
"The Port of Indiana is a huge economic driver of the economy in Northwest Indiana," Charbonneau said. "They're out of space."
Charbonneau said the need for a Level 1 trauma center in the region has "been a topic of discussion here for a long time." According to the proposal, the State Department of Health would be required to study the need and report back to a legislative committee within two years.
Other provisions in the legislation require board members of the Gary/Chicago Airport Authority to have five years of experience in aviation, economic development or business. The governor would get a veto over board members selected by locally elected officials.
The plan also calls for approximately $4 million in annual property tax revenue currently paid to the Gary Sanitary District be shifted to the city of Gary.