INDIANAPOLIS | A controversial plan to have the General Assembly decide how revenue from a Lake County income tax could be spent likely is dead.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said Thursday he is dropping his proposed conference committee revisions to Senate Bill 585 and instead will concur with the House version of the legislation Friday, the final day of the 2013 legislative session.
"I think there would be a better way to distribute the funds on some very significant economic development issues for the county," Charbonneau said. "But to me, there are too many good things in the bill to just walk away from it."
Charbonneau's plan called for a county income tax of up to 1.5 percent to be distributed in 0.25 percent increments as follows: property tax relief, public safety, Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, county building projects, additional property tax relief and any other economic development purpose.
The two Democrats on the House-Senate conference committee, state Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and state Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said they never would agree to Charbonneau's plan to have the legislature, and not the County Council, set how county income tax money could be spent.
Without their approval, the measure likely would not have advanced for final votes in the House and Senate.
That endangered the other items in the legislation including the restructuring of the Gary airport board, the transfer of tax funds from the Gary Sanitary District to the city of Gary, studies of the need for a trauma hospital and Lake Michigan port in Gary, and whether the Port of Indiana should pay Portage for municipal services.
Charbonneau's decision to accept the House version is all but certain to be approved by the full Senate, which will send the proposal to the governor for his signature or veto.
The House version contains a provision inserted by state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, that deletes a state law, known as the levy freeze, capping the revenue of all local governments in Lake County at their 2007 amounts as punishment for Lake's being the only Indiana county without an income tax.
But with the Lake County Council meeting Friday to approve an income tax the levy freeze will be automatically thawed and Slager's proposal will likely be moot.
Rogers said she hopes the council won't change its mind on enacting an income tax just because the levy freeze will be gone.
"The money generated by lifting the freeze (about $4 million) is not enough to take care of the problems that we have," Rogers said.