Senate Bill 585 has many valuable provisions for Lake County and Northwest Indiana. It must become law.
The bill would change the composition of the Gary/Chicago International Airport Authority to provide that appointees be approved by the governor. As with the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority, each board appointee would be required to have knowledge and at least five years of professional work experience in an appropriate field. In the airport's case, that would include aviation, regional economic development, or business or finance.
SB 585 also would require the Ports of Indiana Commission to conduct a feasibility study on establishing a second Lake Michigan port. The existing port is out of space for future expansion.
A second Northwest Indiana port, most likely in Gary, would allow the region's logistics sector to grow and would open new opportunities for foreign trade.
The Indiana State Department of Health would be required to do a study on whether there is a need for a level 1 trauma center and academic medical center in Northwest Indiana. This is another case where a feasibility study is essential; the strong conviction that the region needs a trauma center and an academic medical center aren't sufficient to persuade downstate lawmakers of the need.
And yes, SB 585 would force Lake County to adopt an income tax. This isn't a popular choice among taxpayers, nor among local officials, but the time to adopt the tax has come.
Lake County government is smaller than it once was, with some 300 jobs jettisoned because of the property tax caps, the frozen property tax levy and the low property tax collection rate.
While that's good news, the county is this year in the unsustainable position of borrowing $15 million just to stay afloat. And that doesn't take into account additional needs on the horizon, including properly staffing the Lake County Jail to meet federal requirements and providing bus service to connected stranded residents to jobs, medical care and shopping.
In setting the tax rate, it is vital that the income tax rate be appropriate to what Lake County truly needs.
It is also important to make sure everyone understands this legislation is about helping the entire region, not just Lake County.
SB 585, now before the House Committee on Ways and Means, must become law.