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News & Press: Government Affairs

NWI Times: Lawmakers Unlikely to Ease Funding for Convention Center

Friday, October 9, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah Stegmeyer
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Dan Carden I Northwest Indiana Times

The dream of a Lake County convention center, funded by a local food and beverage tax, likely will require specific General Assembly approval if it ever is to come to fruition.

On Wednesday, members of a legislative study committee on state tax policy seemed to frown on the idea of authorizing all Indiana counties and municipalities to adopt a 1 percent food and beverage tax, if local officials decide there's a need for the revenue.

Thirteen counties and 14 communities already assess the tax on restaurant meals, including fast food.

In each case, the tax first was approved by the Legislature before being levied by the local government.

Revenue from the tax is used for a variety of purposes. In central Indiana, it pays the debt on Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indiana Convention Center. Elsewhere, the money goes toward parks, jails, water infrastructure and other local needs.

Speros Batistatos, CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, has long sought a food and beverage tax to build and operate a Lake County convention center that regularly would put heads in region hotel room beds and pack area restaurants with out-of-town visitors.

However, the Lake County Council and Lake County Board of Commissioners generally have been cool to that idea and have not yet sought legislative approval.

Representatives from the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns and the Association of Indiana Counties argued a uniform food and beverage tax statute, enabling any locality to assess the tax, would save state lawmakers the trouble of reviewing and approving every request.

They also said the low tax rate, equal to 30 cents on a $30 restaurant tab, would go mostly unnoticed by consumers, but could significantly help cash-strapped localities struggling to maintain services under punishing property tax caps.

Those arguments did not seem to persuade the leaders of the General Assembly's tax committees: state Sen. Brandt Hershman, R-Buck Creek; and state Rep. Tim Brown, R-Crawfordsville.

They both suggested state oversight of local taxes is better than allowing hundreds of counties, cities and towns to fill pools of money with no specific purpose.

Food and beverage taxes also are opposed by the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association, which resents their customers being singled out for special taxes and claims any increase in the total customer bill will reduce business and potentially cost jobs.

The nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency estimates a 1 percent Lake County food and beverage tax would bring in between $5.3 million and $9.5 million a year.

Porter County annually could collect between $1.8 million and $3.2 million, according to LSA.

State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, a member of the study committee, said if revenue from a local food and beverage tax was used in a way that guaranteed significant business expansion and created numerous jobs, he might support it.

But he emphasized he's not a fan of higher taxes.

"The word 'tax' has a bad taste in my mouth," Randolph said.

See full story here

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