RICH JAMES: Charbonneau makes income tax more palatable

2013-03-13T00:00:00Z RICH JAMES: Charbonneau makes income tax more palatableBy Rich James nwitimes.com
March 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Indiana state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, was out in left field a month ago with his omnibus bill to “cure” all that ails Lake County.

It was a terrible piece of legislation that essentially held Gary hostage.

It basically told Gary it had to relinquish control of its airport to Gov. Mike Pence if there was to be any hope for the city receiving a trauma hospital, a deep-water port and a land-based casino.

While I respect Charbonneau, that legislation made me angry. And I said so.

I don’t know if Charbonneau listened to me or thousands of others who call Lake County home, but the transformation has been tremendous.

Charbonneau has crafted a new Lake County bill. It is masterful.

No longer would the governor take control of the Gary/Chicago International Airport.

The legislation would require appointees to the Airport Authority to have five years of experience in aviation, economic development or business.

The governor would have veto authority over board appointments by locally elected officials. While I don’t particularly like that, it’s something the county can live with. And, it might well result in better appointments.

The bill would require the State Department of Health to study the need for a Level 1 trauma center and teaching hospital in Gary and report back within two years. How about one year?

And it requires state agencies to study the need for a deep-water port in Gary.

Charbonneau said the Port of Indiana in Porter County, which generates massive amounts of economic development, is out of space.

The beauty of the bill is that none of the good things for this corner of the state can happen, unless — as we have heard a hundred times before — we help ourselves first.

Yep, the bill makes it much more palatable for Lake County to become the last to adopt an income tax.

The bill allows the county to spend most of the proceeds of a 1 percent income tax rather than use it for property tax relief. One-fourth of the new tax would go to economic development projects, which could include a new South Shore line and bus service.

Just think: Expanded commuter rail and bus service could become a reality without a need for their own dedicated taxes.

Charbonneau and senators from across Northwest Indiana have taken a united stand — which is a rarity — on moving the region forward.

And adopting the tax would eliminate the levy freeze that is crippling county municipalities.

The tax still must be adopted by the County Council. What say you, councilmen? Isn't it time to put progress before politics?

Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjames@219.com. The opinions are the writer’s.

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