RDA seeking state extension, not share of income tax
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/302-0949 September 22, 2013 8:44PM
Bill Hanna, executive director of the Regional Development Authority, says no deal ever was in the works for the group to get a share of Lake County income tax. | Post-Tribune File Photo
Updated: October 24, 2013 6:25AM
The Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority is campaigning for renewed state funding beyond 2015.
However, the group’s executive director has denied a deal was ever in the works to sustain the development authority by capturing money from a Lake County income tax.
“Absolutely not,” said RDA director Bill Hanna. “That was a point of confusion. When we talk about renewal, we are seeking state dollars. We’re already getting contributions from Lake County.”
Hanna’s comments came after Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott said Thursday his support for the RDA was wavering after he felt “blind-sided” by what he thought was last-minute maneuvering by the RDA in the closing days of the General Assembly in April.
McDermott said he was told the RDA wanted a portion of Lake County’s new option income tax. McDermott said that would mean Hammond would be paying the RDA twice.
McDermott, who’s chairman of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission’s legislative committee, criticized the RDA for not keeping its members informed in the waning days of the legislature.
The confusion arose when legislation surfaced about a billion-dollar plan to fund mass transit in central Indiana with local income taxes. Hanna and Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said they tried to show Lake County officials that it could be done here, too. Meanwhile, the central Indiana bill failed.
“We weren’t trying to capture revenue for the RDA,” Hanna said.
Soliday said Lake County’s lobbyists weren’t interested.
One of the RDA’s missions by state statute is the extension of the South Shore into western Lake County. Soliday said about 80 percent of South Shore riders are from Lake County. He said inserting support for transit in the income tax made sense.
“I think it’s one of the tools that urban communities across America are using to revitalize their core. If Lake County doesn’t want to participate, it is what is,” said Soliday.
The RDA itself comes to a funding crossroads at the end of 2015 when the state’s annual $10 million funding ends. That funding can be extended by the General Assembly and the RDA has been seeking support for the renewal.
In 2005, flush with money from the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road, the General Assembly created the RDA to spark economic development in Northwest Indiana, including improvements at the Gary/Chicago International Airport, the extension of the South Shore, lakefront parks and other projects.
Hammond, Gary, East Chicago, Lake and Porter counties each contribute $3.5 million annually to the RDA. The Lake County municipalities use their casino money, while Porter County pays its share from its local income tax.
Hanna has said more than $200 million in RDA projects have generated $1.1 billion in economic development and created 2,000 construction and permanent jobs.
Hanna acknowledged the RDA needs to do a better job of communicating.
“One thing we learned is we have to be more effective in our communication so there’s less chance of confusion,” Hanna said.