Thursday, January 06, 2005

Indianapolis pushes two big plansINDIANAPOLIS:

Stadium, government consolidation proposals could affect whole stateBY BRENDAN O'SHAUGHNESSYboshaughnessy@nwitimes.com317.637.9078
This story ran on nwitimes.com on Saturday, December 25, 2004 12:12 AM CST

INDIANAPOLIS In the upcoming legislative session, Mayor Bart Peterson will lobby for two significant and controversial proposals in the state capital that promise to reverberate across Indiana for years.The first is a blockbuster $1 billion plan announced Dec. 19 to build a new stadium for the Colts football team and expand the city's convention center.
The deal relies on a host of targeted tax increases and the introduction of slot-like pulltab machines at several off-track betting facilities.Several Northwest Indiana lawmakers said they would support the plan in return for central Indiana lawmakers backing their efforts to secure funds for rail and airport expansion in the region.Rep. Bob Kuzman, D-Crown Point, said it also gives direction for the region to use similar funding sources -- restaurant, hotel, auto rental and admissions taxes rather than property or income taxes -- for a Regional Transportation Authority."It's definitely a quid pro quo," Kuzman said. "If they're getting a new stadium and expanded convention center, it's time for some real state dollars up here."Colts fans and downtown businesses are behind the plan, saying the team has revitalized the downtown and bigger conventions would boost economic activity.Gaming opponents in the Legislature have promised to oppose the state's further reliance on gambling taxes that primarily soak the lower economic classes."Pulltabs will be a hard sell statewide," said Rep. Ralph Ayres, R-Chesterton."I'm not jumping for joy at the prospect of using gaming to fund football."Kuzman also said some casinos could oppose pulltabs that cut into their customer base, especially a facility in Ft. Wayne that could affect the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City.The second Indianapolis proposal, called "Indy Works," is a culmination of the UniGov unification of city and county government. Mayor Peterson wants to consolidate the city's townships, fire departments and police forces to save an estimated $35 million per year that otherwise will add to property taxes.This kind of efficiency argument will add to the government consolidation movement statewide, said Richard Balkema, a Valparaiso University political science professor. Last year, township officials descended on the Statehouse to defeat a Kuzman plan to eliminate townships and transfer their duties to county and state agencies.With a bottom-line and business-oriented new governor, any plan promising to cut spending will have a better shot at passing in 2005, Balkema said.He said such proposals don't always produce the economies of scale they promise, so lawmakers and taxpayers should be skeptical of how the plan will affect services and who gains from the power shift.
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