After Merrillville reduces local contribution, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. says “if I were a betting man, I’d bet that next year the GA will shove this project down our throats.”
March 15, 2017-Last night the Merrillville Town Council grappled with a shortage of local funds to repair roads and provide needed services to a struggling community. After examining their commitment to the West Lake extension of the South Shore rail, council members decided that they could not afford the 22% match to which they had originally committed. Council members voted to reduce their pledge to the train to Munster from 22% of annual CEDIT revenue to 8% annually. The adjustment will reduce Merrillville’s 2017 contribution form $180,000 to $65,000 according to Department of Local Government Finance statistics.
Shortly after the Lake County Option Income Tax was passed, Congressman Visclosky began visiting local units of government in the area asking for “a quarter of a quarter”-referring to the .25% county economic development income tax. The highly unusual hat in hand tour confirmed to many that Congressman Visclosky was the main impetus for the imposition of the County Economic Development Income Tax in the first place and, thus, felt entitled to “his” share of the pie. Many communities quickly caved under pressure not only from the Congressman but the One Region Northwest Indiana Times crew. Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. spoke openly about being attacked by the One Region Times for simply asking questions about the equity of requiring north county, poorer communities to bear the largest portion of the cost for the extension. Hammond, Gary and East Chicago, all of whom already have the South Shore rail, are forced to pay $3.5M per year in gaming revenue to the failed Visclosky Regional Development Authority.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr., who has always been an advocate of the West Lake Extension but a critic of the funding mechanism, provided his political analsyis of the situtation on social media:
The easiest way for this project to happen will be for the State of Indiana to pay the local match, which was the original plan in 2008. How we could expect struggling communities, like EC, Gary and Merrillville, to pay millions for a project that doesn’t affect their communities? Actually, EC and Merrillville are right, what the Congressman is asking them to do is unconscionable.
There is no way this project will happen if the communities, who are paying millions for the “local share”, can change their contributions from one month to the next. No bank will ever finance a project of this magnitude if the communities are allowed to opt out from one year to the next.
How will Congressman Pete be able to bond the hundreds of millions of dollars this project requires if he can’t even get a contributing community to stick to their original pledge? I predict one of three things will happen by the end of 2018:
1). The project will die because the local match cannot be obtained,
2). Congressman Pete will work with the Indiana Republican Supermajority to REQUIRE local communities to pay 33% of their CEDIT money towards this project, or
3). Indiana will pay the local share towards the federal match (fat chance).
If I had to bet, I would place my money on option #2 because the SS expansion is loved by the downstate Republicans, and they certainly don’t want to pay for it themselves. They aren’t going to let this die, neither will Congressman Pete. Get ready NWI, if I were a betting man, I’d bet that next year the GA [Indiana General Assembly] will shove this project down our throats.
In fact, that may already be happening. Hal Slager’s disastrous House Bill 1144 winds its way through the Senate this week. Under the bill, the RDA would be able to come into local communities and create “transit development districts” (TDD) around train stations. The RDA would then take all increases in local option income taxes and property taxes for thirty years from the TDD. The unprecedented expansion of an un-elected, quasi-governmental board is not being given a second thought by the Indiana General Assembly and is not being opposed by most locals who stand to lose an incredible amount of power under the plan. Unfortunately, all evidence suggests that the Indiana General Assembly will simply expand the RDA ability to take money from locals if they do not willingly provide the money. Merrillville may see its road money taken despite last night’s vote.