An Indiana Senate committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance legislation that would require the Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state’s job creation agency, to inform local officials before purchasing more than 100 acres in a county or municipality.
The Senate Local Commerce and Technology Committee voted 10-0 to move Senate Bill 295 from Sen. Brian Buchanan, a Republican from Lebanon, to the Senate floor. Buchanan introduced a similar bill last year but it never received a hearing.
Buchanan’s district includes parts of Boone County, where the state began secretly amassing thousands of acres two years ago for a 10,000-acre advanced manufacturing site known as the LEAP Research and Innovation District. LEAP stands for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.
That process angered some area farmers and landowners, who called for more transparency, and opposition to the project spread to the Lafayette area after IBJ revealed the IEDC was considering tapping into Lafayette-area aquifers to pump water to service the LEAP district more than 30 miles away.
Buchanan said the bill is intended to “streamline the process of economic development in Indiana by making sure all stakeholders are involved.”
Kerwin Olson, director of the not-for-profit Citizens Action Coalition, was the only person to testify in support of the legislation.
“Anything we can do to increase transparency around the IEDC is most definitely a small leap in the right direction,” Olson said.
Sen. Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette, who authored legislation to regulate large water withdrawals in response to the IEDC’s water pipeline proposal, said he supports greater transparency related to the IEDC.
“The IEDC has done some remarkable things in our state in terms of development and transforming our economic environment, but we have to make sure too, though, that we’re doing that in a way that is sustainable and maintaining trust.”
The legislation would also allow House and Senate leadership to each appoint a nonvoting, advisory member to the IEDC board, and give school corporations more flexibility when using funds obtained from an Innovation Development District.
Similar to a local tax increment financing, or TIF, district, an Innovation Development District captures incremental gains in state and local taxes generated by the district. But unlike TIF districts, the state can claim up to 88% of the taxes, which it can use to award grants, give out loans and offer investments for a project in that district.
The Lilly project at LEAP is the state’s first Innovation Development District, with up to $271 million in tax rebates for the company’s investment, which is the single-largest incentive ever given by the IEDC.