Updated: May 12, 2013 2:09PM
INDIANAPOLIS — A new compromise on the so-called “Gary bill” removes the veto power of the governor on airport board appointments and would stop the state from forcing local governments to impose taxes.
Senate Bill 585 will provide funds for studies on the potential of both an academic medical and trauma center and a Lake Michigan shipping port in Lake County. It will also allow the city of Gary to access $3 million from the Gary Sanitary District.
On the Gary/Chicago International Airport, the legislation would end the tenure of all current board members and replace them with new board members: four from Gary, one each from Porter and Lake counties, and one from the governor. Each board member must have five years experience in business, finance or aviation management.
Rep. Ed Soliday said the amendments, worked out over the weekend, would still provide for potential opportunity to the Gary airport. Now each member of the board will be appointed by the local government, but the one member appointed by the governor will serve as the airport board chairman.
“We spent the weekend finding a way to get everything done,” Soliday said. “This has tremendous potential for our region.”
Rep. Charlie Brown supported the changes to the bill.
Another amendment by Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schereville, would stop the state from forcing local governments to impose taxes. Slager noted the property tax levy freeze and a proposal in the Senate bill as imposing on local control.
“I always believed it was fundamentally wrong for us to force any form of government to impose a tax,” Slager said. “It just happens to be timely because the Senate just passed another bill that would impose a wheel tax to access roads funds.
“This is money that the taxpayers have already paid. It’s taxpayers’ money, not the legislature’s money.”
Brown said he was confused why the amendment was necessary, since Lake County Council recently voted 4-3 on a county income tax that would lift the property tax freeze.
Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said the amendment could put at risk the chance of passing an income tax. Because the county hasn’t passed the income tax, it hurts the smaller municipalities funding capabilities.
“My fear is if we allow this amendment,” VanDenburgh said, “it’s going to give those same elected officials their out for not passing this income tax.”
While the amendment was adopted along party lines, Brown doesn’t believe the amendment will affect the bill’s chances of passing the House.
“Even if this stays in the bill, Lake County needs to move forward on the income tax,” Brown said.