Sunday, July 05, 2009

Kenley's Duplicity On Voter Input

Northwest Indiana legislators didn't want a referendum to allow Northwest Indiana voters to decide whether to create a regional transit authority with the power to levy a one-quarter percent local income tax, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) is forcing a special election on them this fall that will cost taxpayers more than a $1 million. The NWI Times' Patrick Guinane writes:

Northwest Indiana legislators didn't want the referendum requirement, which is expected to cost county election boards $250,000 in Porter County and up to $1 million in Lake County. But the powerful chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee insisted voters decide whether to create an appointed board of mayors and elected county officials with the power to impose a local income tax of up to 0.25 percent.

"Let's convince the people and get their approval that this is what they want," said Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville. "I think it's a matter of public confidence in Northwest Indiana. The political people in Northwest Indiana do not have a high level of public confidence in their activities now. If they can get that (referendum) vote, then they've got a base to build from."
Although the transit authority will be supported by a local income tax, the referendum language Kenley inserted into the state budget bill that area voters will consider makes no mention of a tax increase. It reads:

"Shall there be created the northern Indiana regional transportation district under Indiana Code 8-24 to provide a regional rail system serving Lake, Porter, LaPorte, and St. Joseph counties and regional bus public transportation system serving Lake and Porter counties with (insert name of County becoming a member of the district?"
A separate referenda will take place in four counties, including Lake, Porter, LaPorte and St. Joseph Counties. Oddly, the legislation allows the authority to be created if only two of the counties adopt it. So you could have a regional transit authority consisting of Lake and St. Joseph counties with the two counties in between, LaPorte and Porter, not a part of the transit district; however, the authority will be able to collect the income tax from people living in those counties that work in one of the other counties. "If you get two counties on the extreme ends (Lake and St. Joseph) that vote for it and the two counties in the middle (Porter and LaPorte) don't, what happens to them?" asked Rep. Chet Dobis, D-Merrillville. "That (referendum requirement) was so haphazardly put together, it wasn't funny."

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Merrillville), who is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors for campaign fundraising-related activities, supports the plan as a way of raising $500 million to match federal funding he will help the region obtain to build rail lines to Lowell and Valparaiso. The plan is also seen as aiding the financially-struggling bus agencies in East Chicago, Gary and Hammond. Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott worries that voters will reject the referenda out of hand according to Guinane's story.

Kenley suggests the referenda was needed because of the level of public confidence in Northwest Indiana officials isn't real high right now. Is the public confidence in the Marion County Capital Improvement Board any higher? That didn't stop Kenley from including a $25 million state bailout of the corrupt and inefficient agency in the state budget bill. Voters in Marion County will have no say in the matter. Under Kenley's CIB bailout plan, the City-County Council will have to raise the hotel tax immediately if it wants an $8 million a year subsidy and a $27 million-dollar loan from the state. In three years, the City-County Council will be compelled to raise another two taxes to finance repayment of the $27 million state loan. Note also that Kenley's regional tax to support construction of Lucas Oil Stadium was decided by county councils and not by the voters.

Marion County voters will have a special election referendum this fall thanks to Kenley and his legislative colleagues, which will cost more than a million dollars to conduct. Voters will be asked to vote on this language: "Shall the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Indiana, issue bonds or enter into a lease to finance (insert the description of the project)?". Proponents of the project claim a $900 million new hospital to replace the current Wishard Hospital can be constructed without a tax increase. Yeah, and if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you as well.

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