One of the selling points, though not the only one, for enacting a local income tax in Lake County is to thaw the property tax levy that has been frozen by the state Legislature since 2007. Wednesday's action in the Indiana House of Representatives muddied the waters but didn't build a bridge to solvency for the county.
The House, led by freshman Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, voted 97-0 to amend Senate Bill 585 to remove the levy freeze. In theory, that allows local government units in Lake County to get annual cost-of-living increases in their property tax collections.
The theory also says that would mean an additional $9.8 million a year spread across all units of local government in Lake County. But theory and reality collide in this case. The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency says only $3.8 million would be raised because of property tax caps.
The House maneuver to thaw the levy wouldn't raise nearly enough to address the $15 million shortfall Lake County government is facing this year. So why vote to eliminate the freeze when enacting the income tax would accomplish the same thing?
This smacks of politics, of trying to do the right thing but for the wrong reason. Is there a master puppeteer behind this, trying to shift blame onto Lake County Democrats for doing what Republican lawmakers have pressured them to do for several years now?
Remember why the levy was frozen in the first place. The intent was to pressure Lake County to finally adopt an income tax, the same as every other Hoosier county has. Powerful state Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has been a strong proponent of this pressure to get Lake County to do what's right. What Kenley and state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso — the bill's sponsor — say about Slager's change remains to be seen. Even if they agree to the House revision, it still wouldn't generate enough money, and there would be no property tax relief.
Thawing the levy alone doesn't address needs like funding for regional bus service or start-up costs for the E-911 system or additional expenses at the Lake County Jail mandated by the federal government.
But now Lake County officials who vote for the income tax will look like the bad guys, rather than the lawmakers in the Hoosier Holy Land who have forced Lake County into this corner.
This sounds like dirty tricks, rather than good public policy.