March 19, 2017-Town of Munster officials are the latest to publicly speak out against Hal Slager’s disastrous House Bill 1144. Officials from Gary and Hammond have previously lambasted the bill which would steal money from local schools, police and city services for 30 years with no local control. House Bill 1144 would allow the unelected members of Congressman Pete Visclosky’s Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to enter into any town with a rail station or a bus stop and create a “transit development district.” The RDA would then seize all increases in any type of tax revenue including property taxes and local option income taxes in that district for thirty years. Under the bill as it is, cities and towns would have zero say in where or how many transit development districts are created within their borders. Even Representative Slager, who put his name on the disastrous One Region authored bill, admits that the bill has serious flaws and needs to be amended.
Now members of Slager’s own party are speaking out against the bill. At a forum held by concerned residents on Friday, Town Manager Dustin Anderson said the bill would “create a shadow government” by providing the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority with unprecedented powers. The sentiment was reiterated in an e-mail sent to legislators by Town officials:
There is a real concern with the idea that the development authority could capture property tax increment on a district and spend that at their discretion within a municipality with no real accountability to the community in which they are operating.
Certainly, if there is debt issued to facilitate redevelopment in a district, the debt service obligations of the development authority should be first draw off of the increment. However, it seems a stretch that a quasi-state agency should take any additional property tax increment outside of their obligations to then utilize as they see fit in any number local jurisdictions. It sets up a scenario where there is an unaccountable entity that may run something akin to a shadow-municipality by utilizing that municipality’s own property to feed itself. Any redevelopment project facilitated by the developmentauthority will likely result in a more intense use of the land within the district – larger utility infrastructure, more traffic, increased density, etc. The Town takes pride in providing outstanding service to our residents. We need the revenue to continue to do this. A successful, well-maintained, and economically sustainable project is in everyone’s best interest.
Further, school funding is a significant concern to the Town of Munster. The State has created a process that allows significant local control to this end. We believe that if the increment on a parcel is subject to an assessment under a referendum this will ultimately lead to lower referenda requests, and therefor lower taxes to residents.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, Jr. has been a frequent critic of the bill which could potentially transfer hundreds of millions of dollars from the City of Hammond to the RDA over the next 30 years. When asked whether he would fight the bill personally he replied
“the supermajority makes up their mind and pushes it through with little or no input, they don’t care what our feelings are.”
In 2016, Dunes Action delivered 10,000 signatures against a bill which would overturn a local liquor board ruling and provide a liquor license directly to three politically connected Republicans. The “dunes alcohol” bill sailed through the Indiana Legislature and was signed into law by then Governor Mike Pence. Similarly, the Indiana Vaping bill, which regulated the sale of vape juice so much that only one friend of one legislator was able to do business in the State of Indiana, sailed through the legislature without objection. The Indiana vaping law was later partially overturned by a Federal Judge.
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