I suspect state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, limped home from the Indiana General Assembly a bitter and beaten man.
Despite coming out on the losing end of a key initiative, Soliday shouldn’t hang his head.
At issue was the effort to dedicate a portion of a Lake County income tax to commuter rail expansion across Northwest Indiana.
Such a directive was included in Senate Bill 585 at the beginning of the legislative session. Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, was the sponsor with Soliday’s input.
It was a masterfully written piece of legislation.
The bill had a bit of something for everyone. Specifically:
1. The bill gave Gov. Mike Pence the power to appoint the president of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority.
2. It provided for the spending of $500,000 to study the need for a trauma hospital in Gary.
3. It called for a study to establish a deep water port in Gary to alleviate the crowded conditions at the Port of Indiana in Portage.
Those two initiatives could result in significant health improvements and economic development.
4. And the proposal had a bit of something for just about everyone, including property tax relief, money for public safety and economic development. In general, the bill provided a more liberal use of income tax money than currently allowed.
Initially, the bill also mandated a portion of the income tax be used to access federal transit money. In layman’s terms, that means bringing Northwest Indiana out of the Dark Ages by adding new commuter rail lines from Lowell and Valparaiso to Chicago.
Unfortunately, Soliday’s mandate for transit money was stripped from the bill in the House, largely because the Lake County delegation was opposed to the Legislature telling the county how to spend its tax money.
I generally agree that local officials ought to determine how local money is spent. In this case, Soliday was right.
While most local legislators and elected officials opposed Soliday’s mandate, he actually was doing them a favor.
Year after year, the Lake County Council has refused to enact an income tax. The thought of any other kind of tax — i.e., wheel tax, food and beverage tax and others — has been out of the question. The council won’t even entertain debate.
Soliday was going to take the burden off the council and require — if an income tax were to be adopted — that some of the money go for mass transit. Don’t like it, blame the Legislature.
But, finally, the county would have a permanent funding mechanism for expanded commuter rail and a means to access the $500 million U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky has had on the shelf for many years because the county refused to talk tax or transit.
Thanks, Ed, for trying.