DOUG ROSS: Speedway bailout taxes imagination, too

2013-02-23T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Speedway bailout taxes imagination, tooBy Doug Ross, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357

Indiana legislators seem to be racing toward handing over state tax money to the Terre Haute company that owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This has irony written all over it.

The Indiana Senate on Tuesday passed Senate Bill 91, which creates a motorsports investment district, by a 37-12 vote. It didn't fall cleanly along party lines, but close enough.

The legislation would give up to $100 million in additional sales tax money over 20 years to the private company that owns the speedway. The company promises better lighting, better grandstands, better video displays.

How many people upset about that federal auto industry bailout will complain about doing the same thing for the speedway?

Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., an avowed Indy 500 fan, posted a link on Facebook to Friday's Indianapolis Star story saying speedway officials gave more than $100,000 to Hoosier political campaigns last year — 12 times more than speedway officials contributed in the previous decade.

I talked to McDermott about it later in the day. He's unhappy about it. He should be.

I reminded him of when Hammond was trying to lure Cabela's to the site of the former Woodmar Country Club. McDermott wanted to create a sales tax increment financing district — "We're one of the few cities in Indiana where this is legal," he said — to finance infrastructure improvements at the site. The state rebuffed him.

And yet Indiana lawmakers, predominantly Republicans, are excited about helping their friends in the Hoosier Holy Land. 

"I think the Northwest Indiana legislative delegation and past administrations have delivered to the region a lot of money over the years," Indiana Republican Party Chairman Eric Holcomb said. "It's never constructive to pit one area over another. I suspect it's more about the mayor wanting attention than being against the greatest spectacle in racing and all they've meant to the state of Indiana over the last century, especially this early in the session. Typical grandstanding."

But if the state is so willing to give up tax money for the speedway, where's the $30 million that would have been the state's share of the Cline Avenue Bridge cost? 

"There was nothing to be found for the Cline Avenue Bridge," McDermott said.

Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, voted for Senate Bill 91 when it was in the Appropriations Committee but not when it was before the full Senate. 

Tallian said the speedway has given her, and presumably other legislators, a boxed set of two wine glasses, engraved with the speedway's logo, every year. She can now invite friends over, I told her. Yes, she said, but she has to buy the wine.

Too bad no one thought of handing out glasses with the Cline Avenue Bridge's image.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Follow him at and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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