Regional Cities funding faces hurdle in Indiana House

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Gov. Mike Pence’s plea to increase by half the funding allotted for his Regional Cities economic development program faces an uncertain fate in the Indiana House, its leader said Thursday.

Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said it might have a better chance, however, if Pence would agree to support a GOP plan for long-term road funding including a tax increase.

The Pence proposal in question would add $42 million to the $84 million Regional Cities program first approved last year. But Bosma said the plan won't pass out of the House Ways and Means committee “without extra help.” It's included in Senate Bill 302, which was passed 35-15 by the Indiana Senate on Feb. 1.

The Regional Cities program, though conceptually seen as a good idea by both Democrats and Republicans, has had a rocky road in the Legislature since Pence proposed it last year. The eventual law took funding from a tax amnesty program and used it to fund regional ideas meant to spur economic activity and attract workers and jobs.

The goal was for two regional areas to split the $84 million, but the Indiana Economic Development Corp. surprised lawmakers by approving a third region's proposal. The three proposals awarded funding are from southwest Indiana, the South Bend region and the Fort Wayne area. Pence asked lawmakers to approve extra money–which also was collected in the tax amnesty–to fund grants for all three proposals.

But Bosma said some lawmakers are reluctant.

“There’s no animosity,” Bosma said. “They just adopted a statute last year and, as I shared with the governor, there are some who feel the administration circumvented that. The question is whether we can convince folks to increase by 50 percent the amount that was agreed upon last year. It’s kind of an ‘our word is our bond’ deal.”

Bosma, who is on a mission to pass a road and infrastructure funding bill by the end of the session, said he personally believed the extra regional cities funding should pass.

But he floated the idea of tying the House GOP road plan, including a tax increase that Pence has said he doesn’t support, to the approval of the extra regional cities money, which would allow a third city to take part in the program.

“It would make some sense for those items to proceed together,” Bosma said. “I think something like that might convince some of our folks to come on board.”

Despite the uncertainty, Pence, who said in his State of the State address that he does not want a new tax increase, is still holding out hope.

“Gov. Pence believes the regional cities initiative is critical to retaining and attracting a quality workforce for Indiana’s growing economy and is confident the General Assembly will meet this important need for hardworking Hoosier families,” said spokeswoman Kara Brooks in a statement.

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