INDIANAPOLIS | A key piece in the puzzle of how to pay for expansion of the South Shore Line to Dyer fell into place late Thursday night.
The Indiana General Assembly voted to send the governor Senate Enrolled Act 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 rail transportation systems in Lake County."
A last-minute conference committee change added the rail requirement; some lawmakers had planned to ask the RDA to spend at least a portion of the funds on bus service.
The rail money is expected to be combined with revenue from Lake County cities and towns to create the local match necessary to obtain federal funds to expand the commuter rail.
"It's a dramatic step forward for the entire region," said state Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville. "Ultimately we're going to have to have a transportation system that will help move people not only to Chicago, but back and forth throughout the county — this is the beginning of that."
State Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said she supports South Shore expansion, but even with the money, it's still far from a done deal.
"It's great that the $4 million is going to go to the RDA, and we'll be a mini-step closer to funding the South Shore," she said. "We still have a very long way to go before we have the significant dollars that are needed to transition us forward."
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, about 13,400 county homeowners whose incomes topped $18,000 received the credit because the current income definition does not count most investment or retirement income.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence has yet to comment on whether he'll sign the legislation, though Pence recently spoke with its biggest backer, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville.