Gary economic development bill passes Senate
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org April 26, 2013 11:28PM
The Indiana House meets on what is expected to be the final day of the session at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Friday, April 26, 2013. The Indiana General Assembly is poised to approve a $30 billion budget with new tax cuts, a modest expansion of vouchers, new oversight of the $2.8 billion Rockport coal gasification project and a series of other measures as the 2013 session comes to a close. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Updated: May 29, 2013 7:37AM
INDIANAPOLIS — A bill to give Gary an economic shot in the arm passed the Senate unanimously Friday and awaits the governor’s signature before becoming law.
Senate Bill 85 also includes lifting the Lake County property tax caps.
Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, said the bill, as it passed through the General Assembly and saw a number of amendments, continued to receive overwhelming support.
The largest change was an amendment from Rep. Hal Slager, R-Schereville, that removed a state policy requiring Lake County to pass a county income tax.
The levy freeze, set by the General Assembly in 2007, helped to provide controls for rising property taxes, Charbonneau said. When Lake County would not pass an income tax, he said, the property tax cap became a necessary measure to reduce property tax levy levels.
“I was not here when it passed,” he said, “but I would have voted to put it in place. It needed to happen. But it was never intended to be in perpetuity.”
Sen. Frank Mrvan Jr., D-Hammond, also supported the vote.
“We need the economic development,” Mrvan said.
Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, highlighted the other benefits to the bill, which will provide funding for a feasibility study for both a trauma center and teaching hospital, and a study to expand the Port of Indiana to Lake County. It also provides the city with $3 million from the Gary Sanitary District and resets membership on the Gary Airport Board, requiring five years of experience in business or aviation management.
Lawmakers said they expected the Lake County Council would pass a 1.5 percent county income tax, but attorneys for the council said an emergency meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday did not meet open-meeting requirements, thus preventing a vote on the tax.
If the bill is approved by the governor, the county still has options, said Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary.
“Hopefully they will see this as a seesaw and pass the income tax, and use the 1 percent for property tax relief,” Brown said. “And, at the same time, they could leave the tax levy where it currently stands, providing more relief.”
Rep. Slager, said that he hopes this sets a precedent for the state to stop placing penalties on the counties to pass a tax.
“Before we added this amendment, the Senate had considered imposing a wheel tax to receive roads funds,” Slager said. “Fortunately that has been removed. So the people of Lake County can direct that on their own.”
Correspondent Carrie Napoleon contributed to this story.