State set to put CIB ball in Ballard’s court-WEB ONLY

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State legislators seem willing to give Indianapolis officials the power to raise several local taxes to help fund the city’s troubled stadiums agency.

That plan, though, would force Mayor Greg Ballard to take some of the heat for increasing any of those taxes – and the task of persuading the Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers to perhaps kick in millions of dollars a year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) said yesterday he was optimistic that lawmakers would work out a deal for the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board today before the Legislature’s midnight adjournment deadline. The agency expects to be $47 million short next year in running its facilities, including the eight-month-old Lucas Oil Stadium, Conseco Fieldhouse and the Indiana Convention Center.

GiaQuinta, who is heading negotiations on the bill, said lawmakers are considering proposals to allow Marion County to raise taxes on hotel visits, event tickets and car rentals. A proposal to allow the county to raise local alcohol taxes has met some resistance, he said, and may be dropped.

Lawmakers want to give Indianapolis taxing options and then let city leaders decide on how best to fund the stadium agency.

“If what we do doesn’t fill the whole gap, they can come up with some of this stuff on their own,” GiaQuinta said.

The mayor’s office would have to work with the Colts and Pacers to see whether they’re willing to chip in, GiaQuinta said. Previous funding proposals called on the teams to make $5 million annual payments, but the Colts have balked at the suggestion despite calls from lawmakers and Gov. Mitch Daniels for the teams to contribute.

“That’s up to the mayor and his team to work with the teams on that,” GiaQuinta said. “We can’t legislate what they can do or can’t do.”

Paul Okeson, Ballard’s chief of staff, said the mayor has been talking with the Colts and Pacers.

“We have been and remain in close communication with both teams in hopes of working to make everybody contribute or make everybody a part of the solution,” Okeson said.

He said conversations could become more specific once the city knows what the legislation will entail.

“We really need to wait to see what the proposed solution that comes out of the Statehouse will look like,” he said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) said legislators hope to give Indianapolis options, but that it would be up to the city to figure out how to solve the funding problem.

“I think that’s a wise thing to do,” said Kenley, who has worked for weeks on the bill.

Lawmakers were considering expanding a professional sports development area to include a new downtown hotel – a move that would allow the city to collect taxes from the hotel that would otherwise go to the state.

Ballard had suggested expanding the sports development area even further, bringing the city state taxes from the downtown Circle Centre mall or existing hotels connected to the convention center.

But GiaQuinta said it would take a hard sell to persuade lawmakers from outside Indianapolis to give up so much state revenue during tight budget times.

“That’s going to be kind of difficult,” GiaQuinta said.

Any compromise proposal lawmakers agree upon would have to clear both the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-led Senate before the session ends tonight.

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