The most imaginative, the most commendable policymaking often begins with: "What if?"
Mindful that this news is not welcomed by all, Lake County's new income taxes are with us.
The Indiana Department of Local Government Finance in August certified that in fiscal year 2014, the income tax likely will generate $97,327,896 in property tax relief — which, if in place today, would lower the county property tax rate by 78 percent. The effect on cities and towns in some cases could be a reduction of 16 percent to 18 percent.
In addition, the DLGF certifies the public safety income tax and the economic development tax will each yield $24,331,974 to be distributed among the 19 cities and towns and the county itself.
For many but not all local governments, the dearth of resources endured in recent years is curtailed. This money is to be allocated and distributed monthly beginning in January.
For the county and all local governments, this money represents real, new resources to support services both necessary and desired as defined by residents served in the several cities and towns plus the county.
So, what if, before the money actually arrives, government officials arranged an intergovernmental compact in which the 19 cities and towns set aside 10 percent and the county 15 percent of their economic development income tax money to supply a regional needs fund? The fund would be committed to public projects best undertaken cooperatively and regionally.
I chose these percentages, as they are easy to calculate and would not detract significantly from the long lists of public projects officials already may have.
The worthy project or projects would be determined by the several cities and towns, perhaps using a formula suggested by the Income Tax Council, voting shares in proportion to the population or some other agreed-upon governance.
The critical metric would be that it advances the interests of the region. It should be a project that no one community could perform effectively on its own or that simply could be performed better in combination.
What sorts of projects? What if the cities and towns helped the county fund construction and maintenance of bridges? What if the regional needs fund supported a larger purchasing cooperative, achieving economies of scale?
Perhaps the regional needs fund could be part of a federal, state, local alliance for extending the South Shore to the first leg of the so-called West Lake Corridor.
Supporting watershed management and enhanced flood protection certainly transcends city and town boundaries.
Marshaling a regional needs fund as part of a bundle of incentives to bring new tech and eco manufacturing and the associated jobs could be a worthy regional project.
Perhaps such an effort could advance the construction and equipping of a sorely needed trauma center and teaching hospital to be aligned with the four-year medical school at IUN. E-911 consolidation could be included too.
The means are in place with only the details remaining to be perfected. The possibilities are compelling.
The 10 percent to 15 percent formula would generate about $2.8 million in fiscal year 2014. As a recurrent source of revenue, this number could accumulate. The regional needs fund, as part of a funding bundle, could help advance many now stalled projects.
The intangible effects are notable, too.
If executed properly, the regional needs initiative could begin to change the unfortunate impression far too many in the Indiana General Assembly possess about our corner of the state.
I think the “what if” of the new income taxes challenges us to go a new way in our governance. I am eager to go a new way, provided it is forward.