Region legislators share their priorities for 2014
By Matt Mikus firstname.lastname@example.org January 5, 2014 11:10PM
State Rep. Charlie Brown speaks during a press conference celebrating World No Tobacco Day at Gateway Park in downtown Gary, Ind. Thursday May 31, 2012. Indiana's Smoke Free Air Law House Enrolled Act 1149 goes into effect July 1. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 7, 2014 6:04AM
State legislators from Northwest Indiana say they will take a close look at Gov. Mike Pence’s proposal to eliminate business personal property taxes when they return to the Statehouse for the 2014 session.
The big question is, how can that tax be eliminated without hurting local governments and schools that rely on that revenue?
“It’s what we need to look at,” said Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso. “It would be good from an economic standpoint, but it would be a big hit when it comes to local governments.”
Charbonneau added that a possible option to the tax could allow local governments to choose what to do. Some may decide to keep the tax, while others choose to get rid of it.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said Democrats in the General Assembly will probably play defense when the personal property tax is up for debate.
“I cannot begin to fathom the effect that it will have for our school corporations or local municipalities,” Brown said. “That’s one of their main sources of revenue.”
Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, said he doesn’t expect the tax to be eliminated entirely.
“Anything we do with (business) personal property tax, we have to keep the locals in mind,” Soliday said. “You need to find a way to do it that’s a win-win for the locals and the businesses. That’s going to be a tough one to work on.”
While there are a few big-ticket items in the upcoming session, legislators also say they have their own pet projects to work on.
Brown wants to focus on health initiatives, including expanding the smoking ban to all establishments.
There had been fear the ban would harm business, Brown said, but everyone has had a chance to see that it has not.
“That has not held true, so why don’t we remove those exemptions for private clubs and bars?”
Seeking more funds and partners for a level-one trauma center would be another of his priorities.
Brown will also focus on trying to allow riverboat casinos to move on land.
“I’m almost certain that those casinos would like to pursue moving to a more logical location,” he said. “It would spur economic development in and around the facility.”
For state Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon, her top goal for 2014 is expanding the South Shore line.
“Anything I can do to support that and move it along is my priority,” Reardon said.
Reardon added that she has supported reorganizing the NICTD board in the past to better represent the ridership, which is more heavily Lake County commuters, but is open to input on the issue.
She also worried about preserving public school funding.
Charbonneau is working on a multi-year plan on water use in Indiana.
“It’s going to involve water quality, quantity, location, economic development and job creation. It’s tough to get concern generated, because today when we turn the faucet, water comes out,” Charbonneau said. “But we’re already seeing indications like Lake Michigan being at its lowest levels and some local wells going dry.
“It’s kind of a big picture, we need to start spending time and attention to this.”
Charbonneau said he plans to introduce a bill that would corral different responsibilities of water protection and regulation under the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Soliday plans to offer a bill to help clean up language around licensing fees, but expects new legislation will be introduced to help improve the state’s roads by providing access to funds set aside in 2013.
“We’ve got to have good infrastructure to do business in the state,” Soliday said. “We need that appropriated.”
He also suggests a bill to study alternative funding for infrastructure and gauge the quality of other states surrounding Indiana.
“Let’s grade the states around us for infrastructure,” he said, “and see how much it would cost for us to have the best infrastructure.”
Alternative funding structures also need to be studied, he added, since improved fuel efficiencies make fuel taxes less effective.
“I think you’d be foolish to just throw something on the wall and see if it sticks,” Soliday said. “Let’s get the study done and understand where we should be.”