“We’ve gotta get moving on that,” says state rep on convention center project, given threat of tax sunset

The Monroe Convention Center expansion project needs to make some progress, state representative Democrat Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61) said at a Friday luncheon hosted by the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce at The Mill.

Looming during this year’s legislative session is a threat to the project’s planned funding source, which is the county’s 1-percent food and beverage tax. The threat cited by Pierce is Senate Bill 37,  which has already been filed by Republican Sen. Mike Gaskill (District 25).

If SB 37 is passed, it would end food and beverage taxes across all counties in the state 20 years from now, on Jan. 1, 2043, or the date on which all bonds or lease agreements that are outstanding on May 7, 2023, are completely paid—whichever is later.

Pierce summed up the stalled effort of Bloomington and Monroe County government to collaborate on the convention center expansion like this: “We gotta get moving on that.”

Pierce was joined at the event by three other area state legislators: Sen. Eric Koch (District 44); Sen. Shelli Yoder (District 40); and Rep. Dave Hall (District 62).

Pierce’s comment on the convention center expansion came in response to a question from chamber CEO and president Eric Spoonmore.

The other three legislators didn’t comment on Spoonmore’s food and beverage tax question.

Koch said the Republican agenda for this upcoming legislative session won’t be revealed by the senate’s majority caucus until Monday.

Koch told the roughly 70 people in attendance on Friday, “There are a lot of things that I’d really, really, really, really like to talk to you about today, but I can’t get out in front of the caucus.”

Yoder told the group that she’s filed two bills on increased access to contraception, and another bill to repeal SB 1, which was enacted last year and makes most abortions illegal in the state of Indiana.

At such events, the chamber offers legislators a chance to poll attendees who hold up the green side of a big card to answer yes and the red side to answer no.

Hall took the chance to poll the audience on a bill he’s working on that would fund water quality improvements for Lake Monroe.

Hall described the bill, which would add a $2 gate fee at the Fairfax and Paynetown SRAs on Lake Monroe—from which season pass holders and county residents would be exempt. The additional money that’s collected could be used on improvements to help Friends of Lake Monroe improve upstream water quality, Hall said.

The audience response to Hall’s bill on Lake Monroe water quality was a sea of green.

Among the group were three Bloomington city councilmembers—Susan Sandberg, Ron Smith, and Sue Sgambelluri—as well as Bloomington mayor John Hamilton.

For those four, the question about the potential nixing of the food and beverage tax by the state legislature was already on next week’s local legislative horizon. That’s in connection with a resolution expressing the city council’s support for a capital improvement board (CIB) as the governance for the Monroe Convention Center expansion.

A CIB is a kind of public body that can be established by county commissioners and is subject to Indiana’s Open Door Law and Access to Public Records Act.

The city council’s resolution also calls on the mayor to work with county commissioners to sort out an interlocal agreement that covers how the CIB appointments would be made, among other details.

The resolution was already adopted by the city council in mid-December on an 8–1 vote, but Hamilton vetoed it. Hamilton’s preferred governance structure is a 501(c)(3).

So the same resolution appears on the council’s Jan. 11 meeting agenda, their first of the year, as part of the procedure potentially to override the veto.

The procedure to override a veto is just to consider the resolution again, and if it achieves at least six votes—the required two-thirds majority—then it is overridden. There’s not an explicit question put in front of the council to override the veto or not.

Consideration of a resolution at the city council’s first meeting of the year is somewhat unusual, because normally the first meeting covers just organizational matters, which include electing a president, vice president and parliamentarian.

The actual status of the resolution—as passed or vetoed—is in some sense moot. If the veto is overridden, that does not require Hamilton to negotiate terms with the county government on a CIB. If the mayor’s veto is not overridden, that does not require the county government to negotiate terms to establish a 501(c)(3).

The real question is whether county commissioners and the mayor can come to terms on some governance structure before the legislature acts—if the legislature acts to sunset the food and beverage tax.

State representative Pierce reminded the audience at Friday’s luncheon that a bill similar to this year’s SB 37 passed the senate last year, but was thwarted through a bipartisan effort in the house.

Pierce put it like this: “If we don’t have something going, I could see them just repealing it and saying: Well, you didn’t use it, you haven’t used it, you’ve had it for so many years. So we’re done now.”

Monroe County’s food and beverage tax was enacted in 2017, with collections starting in early 2018. Here’s what the month-by-month revenue trend looks like:

Photos: Greater Bloomington Chamber at The Mill (Jan. 6, 2023)

3 thoughts on ““We’ve gotta get moving on that,” says state rep on convention center project, given threat of tax sunset

  1. Hamilton’s preference is to exclude county government from management of the convention center. The 501(c)(3) is just a means to accomplish that.

    The convention center is an example of socializing risk and privatizing reward. The private sector can’t make it work, so make taxpayers foot the bill. Hotel and restaurant operators reap the reward, if there is any.

    Of course the Chamber of Commerce and BEDC have sent and will send paid employees to public meetings to comment favorably on the convention center proposal. Most voters get nothing but increased taxes and perhaps a job waiting tables, hence the torrent of opposition when the tax was proposed.

    It has been suggested that this 501(c)(3) dispute is a Potemkin village, of sorts. That is to say, first time political candidate and Realtor Don Griffin will soon declare a CIB acceptable, thus creating some ‘distance’ between Griffin and banker/mayor Hamilton. This is not a notion that I would normally subscribe to, but then I wouldn’t have thought anonymous threatening letters would be sent in the context of a lowly school board race and I was wrong about that.

    1. Those threatening letters in a school board race make running for public office a bit scary.

  2. Kudos to Dave Hall, our new rep who lives in Jackson County, who understands that the greatest challenge to Bloomington’s future is preserving and protecting “Lake” Monroe, our only source of water. The other issues pale in comparison and are just noise.

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