INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana House hopped on board the effort to extend the South Shore commuter rail line to Dyer.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted 73-24 on Monday for Senate Bill 367, which closes a Lake County tax loophole and directs the $4 million a year in savings to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority "to establish or improve public mass transportation systems in Lake County."
That money is expected to be combined with revenue from Lake County cities and towns to create the local match necessary to obtain federal funds for South Shore Line expansion.
The component is a tiny piece of Senate Bill 367 which addresses a bevy of state and local tax issues. The measure goes to a House-Senate conference committee where lawmakers from both chambers will meet to decide on a compromise version of the proposal.
Once identical language is decided on, it must be re-approved by the House and Senate before it can go to the governor for his signature or veto.
State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, said he expects the conference committee will leave the South Shore provision intact, so long as local disputes over the money don't filter down to the Statehouse in the next two weeks.
That may be difficult as Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. is insisting the $4 million, which originates from casino admission tax revenue, be returned to Hammond, East Chicago, Gary and Lake County for local officials to decide how to spend it.
State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, D-Munster, said she's been told that if the money doesn't go to the RDA for transit, the Legislature will send it to the state's general fund and not Lake County or the casino cities.
"I understand the frustration that the locals have," she said. "But if the option is sending it to the general fund or sending it to the RDA and back to Northwest Indiana, then I vote for Northwest Indiana and the South Shore extension."
The $4 million comes from adjusting the Lake County Residential Property Tax Credit to ensure only homeowners with less than $18,000 in total income claim the $300 credit intended to help low-income homeowners with their property taxes.
Last year, some 13,400 homeowners whose incomes topped $18,000 received the credit because the current income definition does not include most investment or retirement income.