INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mike Pence has put a $4 million exclamation point on years of work by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, in building local support and funding to expand the South Shore Line to Dyer.
The Republican governor announced Thursday he signed into law Senate Enrolled Act 367, closing a Lake County tax loophole and directing the $4 million a year in savings to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority "to establish or improve public mass rail transportation systems in Lake County."
That money will be combined with economic development tax revenue contributed by Lake County cities and towns — including $53,000 pledged Thursday by Dyer — to create the local match necessary to obtain federal funds to extend the commuter rail line connecting region residents with high-wage Chicago jobs.
"It's a huge economic development project that's going to pay dividends for a long time to come," said state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. "Long term, I think everybody in Northwest Indiana is going to benefit."
State Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek, sponsor of the new law, said an expanded South Shore Line, coupled with the state's lower tax rates, will make Northwest Indiana an even more ideal site for Illinois companies and residents considering relocating.
"If you look at what brings businesses to a community it is tax and regulatory environment, but it is also quality-of-life issues — and transportation very definitely is a quality-of-life issue," Hershman said. "Having an option like a modern South Shore is a good thing for Lake County and the region as a whole."
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 pay their property taxes.
Last year, about 13,400 county homeowners whose incomes topped $18,000 received the credit because the prior income definition did not count most investment or retirement income in determining eligibility for the tax credit.
Charbonneau and Hershman discovered the loophole last summer and this year persuaded the Republican-controlled General Assembly that sending the money to the RDA for South Shore expansion was the best possible use for the funds.