Meet Rep. Bill Fine, Focused On Restructuring District’s Economy
January 13, 2015 — TheStatehouseFile.com reporter Max Bomber talked with one of Lake County’s newest state legislators.
Meet Rep. Bill Fine
Occupation: Attorney, Highland, IN
INDIANAPOLIS—Relying on his almost 40 years of experience as an attorney, Rep. Bill Fine, R-Highland, said he is focused on restructuring and restoring his district’s economy and education system during his first session as a lawmaker in the Indiana General Assembly.
Fine said his legal background gives him a “pragmatic” perspective and allows him to use the critical and analytical skills he has refined throughout his career.
He will sit on the House Education Committee, as well as the Commerce, Small Business, and Economic Development Committee.
Fine said he believes in public education and is committed to finding the highest Hoosier education standards. He also said he is hoping to surge job growth in his district as well as in Indiana as a whole.
Q: What are the biggest issues facing your district that need to be addressed?
A: “That’s actually an easy question, having just come off of a campaign (where) we were knocking on doors from the summer to Election Day. The two topics that came up most commonly were jobs and education. There is a lot of concern in the district that we aren’t recovering as fast as others. People are concerned with finding good jobs, keeping the jobs they have and whether there will be job opportunities for their children. They want me to restore good jobs to an area that once had a lot of high-paying union and blue-collar jobs, which drove the economy in Northwestern Indiana. The other thing they are concerned about is education – primarily school funding. They want more money to come into their schools so they don’t have a situation where they have to start cutting programming and lose some of the great teachers they had.”
Q: How are you acclimating to your new position as a lawmaker so far?
A: “I have some friends and family that are familiar with the Statehouse, so I’m somewhat familiar with what goes on here. It’s a lot in a hurry, I mean you’re down here the day after the election to start your orientation, but they give you a lot of good training. Being there is four days with the legislatives services agency, and the Republican caucus spends some time with us; overall the support staff is excellent. They are really qualified people who know their stuff, they bend over backwards to try to make it easier for us. So although you get a lot of information in a hurry, they make it as painless as possible. It’s an environment where you are not afraid to ask questions.”
Q: Are you offering any bills or sponsoring any this session?
A: “Yes, I’m still fine-tuning a lot of stuff. Between the bills that I’m initiating and the bills that I’m carrying for other members that have already maxed out, I’ll probably have my name on somewhere between eight to 10 bills as an author or co-author.
For people who live in Indiana and Northern Illinois, there is no tax reciprocity agreement. You’re basically paying Illinois taxes, and then you get a credit to what the Indiana tax is, but since the Illinois tax is higher than the Indiana tax you are basically paying the equivalent of Illinois taxes and nothing to Indiana. I’m submitting a bill that the credit would be increased (and would) also include the local county income tax, so that it will be more attractive for people to live in Northwest Indiana and work in Chicago.
There is a big initiative now to try to develop a railroad that will run into the city. The idea that it will spur economic development and let more Hoosiers work in the city for higher paying jobs; that is just another tool in that box to make it more attractive for people to live in Northwestern Indiana and make big salaries in Chicago.
Calumet Township is having trouble with the high cost of administering poor relief, which is a temporary form of financial support. It operates at the same time as the state welfare system works. A bill was passed in an earlier session, which gave them the opportunity to let them join another township. What that’s going to do is leave a lower tax base for Calumet, with a lower collection rate. The irony with township tax relief is that the taxpayers in the township pay for the tax relief. There have been some recent studies that suggest that poverty seems to accumulate and concentrate in certain areas, so you have a high poverty area that is supposed to be paying taxes for poor relief to help the high poverty occupants. I am suggesting whether there should be a study committee to decide whether that structure still makes sense in Calumet Township. That’s something that needs to be done for the city. Those people aren’t going to have the kind of resources available to them that they should have.
The third thing I’m doing, if I have to prioritize them, is that there was a recent initiative to try to allow counties to give personal property tax relief to generate more investment in the community. No county in the state, so far as I know, has used that yet. So, I want to tweak it a little bit so that the counties can surgically target parts of the county rather than have the whole county be available for it. That will give them the opportunity if you have abandoned factories in East Chicago, or Gary, or Hammond that they can designate those to be a zone where investment won’t be taxed, and hopefully that will spur those types of investments, which (then) lead to jobs.”
Q: What is most satisfying about your job as a politician?
A: “Professionally, I’m a lawyer and to do what I do benefits one person or one company. It’s nice to use a lot of the same skills I use as an attorney to try to help a county, or a city, or a state as a whole. So there is a much bigger incentive than a payback for the types of things I’m doing. So I’m getting the satisfaction from the realization that I can really make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
Q: What gives you a different perspective than the other members of the House?
A: “In part because of my legal training, I have dealt with government for a very long period of time. I’m on the other side, so when I look at these bills I look at ‘how is it enforceable, how are people going to deal with it (and) is it really realistic or not?’ So I bring kind of a pragmatic perspective to a lot of it. Just being an attorney you have a lot of critical and analytical skills that let you look objectively at a piece of legislation and decide policy-wise whether it makes sense and, in terms of the law itself, whether this is going to what the author intended it to do.”