Your recent editorial on my expressions of concern regarding state funding for the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority pretty much completely misses the mark.
The RDA has done a great job to date of investing its dollars from all sources to develop economic opportunities for Northwest Indiana and has a good track record in terms of producing a return on investment. Also, there is no question that the Major Moves money promised to Northwest Indiana in the next biennium will be delivered by the state per the state budget process, as it committed to do several years ago.
The real question is whether the state should continue a direct subsidy of $10 million each year to the RDA and Northwest Indiana after that, something Indiana does for no other area. In fact, the entire 21st Century Fund (our economic development incentive fund) for the whole state is only $15 million per year, and that covers all 92 counties, including Lake County.
Your editorial relies on several factually incorrect arguments:
- Northwest Indiana’s contributions to the state coffers listed in your editorial do not exceed “benefits received,” if we want to start the measuring game. Caution is recommended in making that argument.
- The state “contribution” of $15 million (and millions more prior to that last amount) to the Little Calumet River levee project was a pure contribution, not attributable to any legal state obligation.
- The Indianapolis projects you refer to are all paid for by local taxes.
- Casino revenues are divided between local government and state government per statute, all of which were voted for by every member of the Northwest Indiana delegation. If they feel that their “share” is incorrect, they should file a bill to correct this. To date, no such bill has been filed in the last 20 years since this arrangement began. The ability for any government unit to collect revenues from gambling was a creation of the state per our Constitution.
Northwest Indiana is one of the most fertile opportunities for economic development in our state. It sits atop a 10 million person Chicago area market, and it offers the advantages of Indiana’s lower tax system and more business friendly regulatory environment. The state has and continues to look for ways to help in that process.
Ninety-one other counties see fit to have a local option income tax as part of their efforts to meet the needs of the citizens and bring economic development to their counties. Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson is running the city with a fiscally tight hand and on one of the lower per-capita budgets of neighboring cities. The decision to implement a local option income tax is entirely the decision of Lake County government officials.
In the opinion of one state senator, clearly Lake County’s willingness to participate in paying for the cost of economic development initiatives will weigh in its favor when future state funding decisions are made.