INDIANAPOLIS | Amid their ongoing debate over whether to give $100 million in state tax revenue to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a private company, the Indiana House and Senate halted their normal work Tuesday to celebrate "Indiana Motorsports Day."
Four Indiana-based racing teams, almost certain to benefit from facilities upgrades at the speedway, were honored by lawmakers in both chambers who praised their contributions to the state's economy.
Representatives of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Vance and Hines Motorsports, Andretti Autosports and Don Schumacher Racing in turn thanked lawmakers for helping make Indiana "the motorsports capital of the world" and said they were confident the Legislature always will support their industry.
The House is set this month to consider Senate Bill 91, which designates the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and adjacent properties a "Motorsports Improvement District." All sales, income and other tax revenue generated within the district, up to $5 million a year, would be given to the speedway for the next 20 years.
Speedway officials have said they plan to use the state money and their own for $30 million in facility upgrades, $20 million for grounds, $20 million for lighting, $15 million for video screens and $10 million for information boards.
The Republican-controlled Senate approved the legislation 37-12 in February. Its prospects for passage look good in the Republican-controlled House.
Lawmakers who voted for or support the measure deny any connection between the more than $100,000 in campaign contributions dished out by the speedway since 2011, and the sudden desire by lawmakers to shovel state funds to a private company that has operated without a state subsidy or bailout for more than 100 years.
As for Tuesday's celebration of the state's motorsports industry, even House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, admitted the timing was "interesting."
Though Bosma pointed out the House once honored former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning even as it was debating whether to build a new Indianapolis football stadium.
"I don't see anything inappropriate about it, and I don't think it's going to swing anybody's vote on an issue that comes here," Bosma said. "We honor lots of folks for lots of things."
State Rep. Chuck Moseley, D-Portage, disagreed. He said Tuesday's ceremony was "a very inappropriate and untimely thing to do."
"When there's a bill pending on spending $100 million for a private company that makes money, that's making a profit, to come in here and do something like that I think at a minimum is distasteful and at a maximum is unethical," Moseley said.
He said if the state is going to spend $100 million on roads it should go toward improving roads that Hoosiers actually drive on.