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What might be Fort Wayne's legislative agenda with the state?

There are a few things of importance, including transportation funding.

Friday, January 4, 2013 - 8:02 am

When you're facing $65 million in overdue street work, an extra million dollars or two may not seem like much – but every little bit helps.

That's why increases in transportation funding, and changes in how the state allocates it, are at the top of Fort Wayne's wish list as state lawmakers prepare to convene for the Indiana General Assembly's 2013 session.

Even as the city's to-do list of unfunded street projects has grown longer, the main source of local transportation funds – the state gasoline tax – has started to dry up, said Brent Wake, the legislative liaison for Mayor Tom Henry's office.

From 2000 to 2011, Fort Wayne's gas tax revenue fell from $17 million per mile of streets being maintained to $7 million per mile, according to a fiscal policy presentation available on the city's website.

“Since the mayor's been in office, we've seen a big decrease to gas tax revenue, and there are multiple ways to address that,” Wake said.

So the city is lobbying state lawmakers to make two specific changes. First, the state ought to increase the gas tax rate – currently 18 cents per gallon – to keep up with inflation, Wake said.

Second, the state could take $144 million that goes to the Indiana State Police and Bureau of Motor Vehicles each year and instead distribute it to local governments through the Motor Vehicle Highway (MVH) and Local Road and Street (LRS) funds, he said.

The proposals mirror items on Allen County's agenda for the 2013 session.

“Every city and county that relies on the MVH fund, they're hurting,” said Bob Kennedy, the city's director of public works. “It's an old system that's got to be looked at.”

When spread around to cities and counties throughout the state, the increased revenue might not add up to much, especially when Fort Wayne is in such a deep hole, but it could help make a dent, Kennedy said.

“It's not going to solve all our problems, but every little bit helps,” he said.

Additionally, the chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, has mentioned an idea that would put revenue from license plate fees toward local transportation funding, Kennedy said.

City officials said they did not know exactly how much money the proposals would free up. More details would become available once an actual bill is drafted and the state's nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency puts out a fiscal impact report on the proposals.

The Indiana House and Senate will reconvene Jan. 7.

Financing for housing districts is priority

Another priority for city officials is legislation that allows for the expansion of Housing Tax Increment Financing, or HOTIF, districts, Wake said.

City officials pointed to the Renaissance Pointe neighborhood as an example of a successful HOTIF, which captures property taxes generated by new development in blighted residential areas and funnels them into a special fund that can then be used for future improvements in the district.

State law currently allows each city to designate just 150 acres under HOTIF status, but city officials would like to see that number increased to at least 300 acres, Wake said.

'No' to thought of repealing personal property tax

Among legislation Fort Wayne officials would oppose: Any attempt to repeal the state's personal property tax, which is assessed on equipment owned by businesses.

According to a study by the pro-business Regional Chamber of Northeast Indiana, a repeal of the tax could cost Fort Wayne city government about $10 million in annual revenue at a time when the city already faces growing budget shortfalls.

“We're watching anything that could have an impact on the city's finances,” said Deputy Mayor Mark Becker. “We wouldn't welcome another hit.”

Wake said he had heard only “rumblings” of a push to repeal the tax and had no knowledge of an actual bill that would do so.