2013 Indiana General Assembly

Senate approves thaw of Lake levy freeze

2013-04-26T17:15:00Z 2013-04-27T16:32:03Z Senate approves thaw of Lake levy freezeDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
April 26, 2013 5:15 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Legislation lifting the Lake County property tax levy freeze and providing new economic development opportunities for Gary is headed to the governor.

State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, withdrew Friday a proposed House-Senate compromise version of Senate Bill 585 that would have controlled how Lake County's proposed income tax could be spent.

He then asked the Senate to approve the House version of the legislation, which does not direct how Lake should spend its potential income tax funds should it pass an income tax in coming months.

The Senate voted 50-0 for the measure, sending it to Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

The four senators whose districts include Lake County — state Sens. Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake; Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond; Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago; and Earline Rogers, D-Gary — all joined Charbonneau in asking senators to support the proposal.

If signed by the governor, Lake County will be free of the levy freeze, a state law that limited the revenue of all local governments in the county to their 2007 amounts as punishment for Lake's being the only Indiana county without an income tax.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates thawing the levy freeze will produce about $4 million a year in new revenue. Property owners whose taxes are already at the state's constitutional caps will not be affected.

Other provisions in the legislation include restructuring the Gary airport board to require that members have business or economic development experience, and the transfer of approximately $5 million in tax funds from the Gary Sanitary District to the city of Gary.

The measure also requires studies of the need for a trauma hospital and Lake Michigan port in Gary, and a review of whether the Port of Indiana should pay Portage for municipal services.

"Senate Bill 585 is an extremely important bill as Gary charts a path toward continued economic development," Rogers said.

State Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, was aggressively unhappy with Charbonneau's decision to concur with the House version of the legislation.

Soliday hosted meetings in his Statehouse office late into the night Thursday and most of the day Friday trying to find a way to guarantee that at least a portion of any Lake income tax be dedicated to rail projects, through the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, as a way to access additional federal transit funds.

Soliday believed a compromise was close and continued working, even after Charbonneau signaled he planned to accept the House proposal.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said it was unrealistic for Soliday to believe such a complicated deal could be pulled together in the final hours of the legislative session.

"That's something that cannot be done in these limited days, especially with the council back home saying we don't want you telling us how to spend our money," Brown said.

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