INDIANAPOLIS | Legislation intended to entice the Lake County Council to finally enact an income tax is likely to be approved next week by the House Ways and Means Committee, but it's not yet clear what might be in it.
The panel reviewed but did not act Wednesday on Senate Bill 585, which currently sets a maximum county income tax rate of 1 percent, with a quarter of the money raised required to be used for economic development purposes — such as a South Shore Line extension.
The measure also repeals an existing state law that mandates revenue from a Lake income tax be used for property tax relief. Instead, depending on which local tax is enacted, the County Council may be allowed to spend most of the money on anything it deems necessary.
State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, a member of the committee and House co-sponsor of the legislation, said he believes the proposal's 1 percent cap on a Lake income tax is good for taxpayers "because right now they can impose much more than that."
However, Slager said he wants a significant amount of any county income tax dedicated to property tax relief.
Another co-sponsor, state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he's open to allowing the County Council set a tax rate higher than 1 percent, so long as the first 1 percent of any tax is dedicated to specific purposes including transit, property tax relief, capital projects and public safety.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, the Senate sponsor of the proposal, told the committee he likes the measure just the way it is, but is open to ideas that make it better.
"I want to pass a piece of legislation that's going to create tremendous opportunities for economic development, capital investment, job creation in Lake County, and if there are suggestions that are going to help make that happen I'm certainly going to consider them," Charbonneau said.
The legislation also requires state studies of the need for a new port and trauma hospital in Gary. In addition, it sets qualifications for Gary airport board members and gives the governor a veto over airport board appointments made by local officials.
State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, another co-sponsor of the measure, strongly objected to the idea the governor will get the final word on airport board membership.
"That to me is patently unfair and patronizing," Brown said. "I don't want to blow this bill up, but this is so very, very important to my community."