Lake County needs to adopt an income tax appropriate to the county's needs, to do everything from funding current spending — remember the $15 million loan just to make ends meet this year — to funding other essentials like public transportation.
Indiana state Sen. Ed Charbonneau's Senate Bill 585 is getting a lot of attention, in part because it would force a 1 percent local income tax on Lake County — a rate that could never be increased or decreased, despite local needs.
A House Ways and Means Committee hearing on SB 585 is set for today.
Under Charbonneau's plan, at least one-fourth of the revenue from this new tax would have to go to economic development, such as extending commuter rail service.
Lake County Councilman David Hamm, D-Hammond, is heading up a panel of three council members to explore options in light of Charbonneau's income tax legislation.
"I'm not going to be a popular guy for this, but I can sleep at night knowing I'm doing the right thing," Hamm said.
Property tax caps and the frozen property tax levy — kept at 2007 levels because Lake County hasn't adopted an income tax yet — have done much for Lake County. Hundreds of jobs have been shed from the county payroll.
But there's a limit to how much can be cut. Already, the county has borrowed $15 million to stay afloat this year. And that's not counting the increasing operational costs at the Lake County Jail.
Nor does it factor in future needs like the E-911 dispatch consolidation or the creation of a sensible, efficient public transportation system.
Consider also the need to get back in the Indiana General Assembly's good graces for future assistance.
Until Lake County adopts an income tax, as all other Indiana counties have, downstate lawmakers won't give Lake County any assistance.
Adopt the income tax this year, and do so in time for the Legislature to look favorably on sensible requests like continuing state funding for the RDA and other key region initiatives.
The income tax is inevitable. Structure it in a way that meets the needs of the entire county. The tax should not enable a spending spree, but should meet urgent needs.