INDIANAPOLIS | Eight state lawmakers from Lake and Porter counties, along with two senators from outside the region, have been tapped to decide whether the General Assembly lifts the Lake County property tax levy freeze.
Senate Bill 585 was changed last week, one day before its approval by the House, to delete a state law limiting the total tax revenue, known as the levy, collected by every local government in Lake County, and reversing six years of state policy punishing the county for refusing to adopt an income tax.
On Tuesday, a House-Senate conference committee will meet at the Statehouse to decide whether that provision should remain in the legislation or be removed.
Any decision by the committee must be approved by the full House and Senate before a compromise proposal can go to the governor for his signature or veto.
The primary conference committee members are the Senate sponsor, state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, and state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary; and the House sponsor, state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.
Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, has selected as advisers to Charbonneau and Rogers, state Sens. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and Jim Buck, R-Kokomo.
The advisers to Soliday and Brown, chosen by House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indanapolis, are state Reps. Hal Slager, R-Schererville; Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster; and Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point.
The possible unconditional thaw of the levy freeze comes as the Lake County Council is closing in on imposing a local income tax, which will lift the levy freeze automatically if it is at least 1 percent and the revenue is mostly used for property tax relief.
However, Brown and other region Democrats believe the Statehouse Republican reversal on the levy freeze that Kenley helped devise is partially intended to allow Lake County Republicans to blame Democrats on the County Council if they enact a county income tax.
"I don't understand to what extent it is politics but that hopefully can be worked out," he said.
Charbonneau said he's considering the levy freeze in the context of the entire Lake income tax question, including whether the Legislature should direct how money raised by a county income tax is spent.
"It's kind of hard to say right now where it'll end up but I think we're close," Charbonneau said. "I'm feeling pretty comfortable and confident that everyone has approached this thing with the intent to get something worked out."
Any failure to reach an agreement next week imperils the economic development provisions of the legislation, including the seating of a new Gary airport board, studies of the need for an academic medical center with trauma hospital and a new Lake Michigan port in Gary, and a review of whether the Port of Indiana should pay Portage for municipal services.