Senator casts doubt on state funding for RDA
By Matt Mikus email@example.com December 5, 2012 8:06PM
Indianapolis Boulevard is closed as the first of three steel girders is in place for a pedestrian bridge over the boulevard in Hammond, Ind. Thursday October 6, 2011. The work is part of the George Lake Trail Pedestrian Bridge project, part of an RDA-funded series that also included the pavilion and splash pad park by Wolf Lake. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 7, 2013 7:21AM
State legislators are considering the value of an annual $10 million allotment for Lake and Porter county development, and whether they should continue the funding to the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority after 2015.
State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Lake County needs to tax its own residents to meet local needs before the state considers subsidizing regional projects.
RDA President Bill Hanna met with the State Budget Committee on Tuesday to consider funding beyond 2015 for regional development. The authority, formed in 2005, was allowed $10 million a year for 10 years. The state funds come from a 2006 lease of the Indiana Toll Road.
The RDA’s annual budget is about $27.5 million, where $17.5 million comes from local contributions. The authority then seeks private funding to complete projects to improve Northwest Indiana. To date, it has produced $1.1 billion in economic impact over seven years, Hanna said, and for each dollar spent, the region sees $5.11 for the region’s economy.
“If we were not making a profit for the state and the taxpayers,” Hanna said Wednesday, “I would be the first to say, ‘Let’s stop doing this.’ But we’ve come a long way since 2005.”
Projects completed with help from the RDA include expanding Gary/Chicago International Airport, Whiting Lakefront development, the George Lake Pedestrian Bridge, Marquette Park revision, the ChicaGo Dash transportation system in Valparaiso, and other transportation and economic development projects.
Kenley said at the committee meeting that the Legislature might want to consider region projects as they come up, instead of leaving it to RDA. He also said 92 counties in the state fund their own projects through a local option income tax, while Lake County has yet to adopt the tax.
Hanna said the funds used by the RDA benefit both Lake and Porter counties, providing a helpful boost to the area economy. While the Lake County income tax issue isn’t directly connected to RDA’s funding, it could threaten the ability of the authority to continue its work.
“When private businesses consider investments they want to see partnerships from all levels, including us, from local governments and the state government,” Hanna said, “It adds a level of credibility and stability. Having the state as a partner creates a more collaborative partnership.”
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Portage, said Kenley pulled away from his income tax comment at a meeting Wednesday morning, but the issue will continue to plague Lake County.
“Maybe his comments were a little strong,” Tallian said, “but it’s become such a refrain for everything that Lake County wants. We always hear that, ‘You don’t have a county income tax, so you have to fund it yourself.’ ”
She said she doesn’t believe the county income tax can fix all of the county’s fiscal problems, but it could take away an excuse that legislators use to refuse financial help for the region.
“If Lake County were to enact an income tax,” she said, “I don’t think it would take care of all of their problems. They have larger issues than that. But it would at least enable them to approach the General Assembly and say, ‘We did what you asked, now we need help,’ and it would put them in a better position.”