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Lake County tax situation still sticking point in Gary bill

Indianstate Sen. Ed Charbonneau R-Valparaiso. March 2013. | Sun-Times Media

Indiana state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. March 2013. | Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 25, 2013 6:26AM



INDIANAPOLIS — As a bill to spur development in Gary moves toward a final vote, the conference committee Tuesday focused on whether the state should require Lake County to pass an income tax or leave that up to the county’s government.

Senate Bill 585, known as the Gary bill, provides funds for a study on a potential expansion of the Port of Indiana into Lake County, a study on the feasibility of a trauma center and teaching hospital, and access to $3 million from the Gary Sanitary District. The bill also requires new members on the Gary Airport Board with at least five years experience in business, finance, or airport administration.

“Most everything in the bill is close to a consensus,” said state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. “That leaves us with one issue, the county option income tax.”

The Senate version of the bill had a provision that would set a Lake County income tax at 1 percent, and spelled out where the money would be used. But the language that passed out of the House not only removed the income tax language but required that the state lift the property tax freeze on Lake County.

During the hearing, no one seemed in favor of the freeze on property tax rates, but Democrats serving on the committee worry that removing the freeze would prevent the Lake County Council and Board of Commissioners from voting on the needed income tax.

“Let the county move on and do the right thing,” state Rep. Shelli VanDenburgh, D-Crown Point, said at the committee hearing, “I still think that the levy freeze was unconstitutional, but they need to pass that county income tax.”

VanDenburgh pointed to deteriorating infrastructure and hurting budgets for schools, cities and towns in Lake County as reasons to pass the tax.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, and Sens. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, and Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, echoed that sentiment, saying the county needs to pass the tax. They were also encouraged by recent County Council progress on passing an income tax.

“We need to remember that this bill was originally designed to help Gary,” Rogers said, “I’d like the discussion to go back to what’s good for Gary, and limit the discussion on the tax.”

State Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schererville, provided the amendment to remove the levy tax freeze. He said he never intended the amendment to be a way for Lake County to raise taxes without passing the income tax, but it was a philosophical argument; local needs should be addressed by local governments.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of determining what is right,” Slager said. “They have to answer to their voters and constituents.”

No action was taken during the hearing.



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