March 30, 2017-The Indiana Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy this morning pushed forward a bill that has been strongly criticized by local elected officials. Republican Munster Town Council member Joe Simonetto stated at a public meeting “there is no one on the [Munster Town] Council that doesn’t think this bill is a hot pile of garbage.” Gary Council President Ron Brewer stated in a recent Common Council meeting “This bill would devastate our community.” Other elected officials have spoken privately to the Gazette but fear retribution from the powerful One Region group- which includes Congressman Visclosky, the Northwest Indiana Times, and NIPSCO- if they speak publicly about it.
Schererville Representative Hal Slager introduced House Bill 1144 which is one of a series of bills designed to take local control from cities and towns and provide it to the un-elected Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority (RDA). Under the bill the un-elected RDA, led by Community Foundation CEO Don Fesko of Munster, could come into any city or town that has a train station and create a transit development district. Once the transit development district is created, the un-elected RDA would receive any increases in property taxes, local income taxes, sales taxes and state income taxes for thirty years.
The bill must still be voted on by the full Indiana Senate, but since the bill has passed out of Committee, passage by the full Senate is virtually guaranteed.
The House Committee on Ways and Means yesterday approved Senate Bill 128, another power grab by the RDA intended, among other things, to prevent communities from backing out of previously committed pledges to an inter-local fund. Gary and Merrillville leaders have both said they simply do not have the funds to provide to Visclosky’s failed RDA. Under Senate Bill 128 the failed RDA would certify to the State Treasurer that a payment has not been made pursuant to the inter-local and the State Treasurer would withhold the pledged amount. According to testimony in Committee the bill was designed to prevent the possibility of protracted litigation.
Mayor McDermott took to social media to lambast the passage of Senate Bill 128 by the Committee:
If you guys think Congressman Pete isn’t behind this maneuver, you’re being naive. It’s depressing when our Congressman is working with the Republican SuperMajority to take funds from his constituents.
In 2009, Porter County voted to withdraw from the failed RDA. The Indiana Legislature at that time passed two bills authorizing the failed RDA to take funds from the general fund of Porter County. A lawsuit ensued and wound through the Courts for 3 years. (see Porter Co. vs. Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority-http://www.ai.org/judiciary/opinions/pdf/03021101ehf.pdf ) The Indiana Supreme Court ultimately ruled agains Porter County and in favor of the failed RDA finding that ” . . .in view of the nature and scope of the RDA’s purpose, the fact that
Porter County was automatically made a member of the RDA at its creation, and the fact that
there is no provision in the RDA Act authorizing Porter County’s withdrawal, we conclude
that Porter County did not have a right to withdraw from the RDA. ” The Indiana Supreme Court refused to consider an argument that the enabling statute for the RDA was unconstitutional special legislation on procedural grounds. As more and more power is grabbed for the failed RDA, maybe it is time for municipalities to ask them to revisit that argument.
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