Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Matt Tully's column in the Indy Star discussing lobbyist reform legislation Sen. Mike Delph is introducing in this legislative session is a refreshing change. Here's a look at Delph's proposals, which he shared with Tully recently over coffee:

  • He showed me a bill (Senate Bill 17) to require the reporting of every gift of $25 or more, including meals, that a lobbyist gives to a lawmaker. The current limit is $100; a reduction in that amount would make it harder for lawmakers to keep quiet about which interest groups are funding their dinners.

  • Then he showed me a bill (Senate Bill 73) to require state university lobbyists, including presidents and trustees, to actually register as lobbyists. While it is crucial that we support and fund Indiana's universities, those institutions should have to abide by the same rules as other lobbying groups. Few groups work harder than universities to tap into the state budget. Is it too much to ask that those efforts be disclosed?

  • Two other bills that have not yet been filed would ban lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists on out-of-state junkets and force the legislature to create a commission to fairly draw legislative districts.

All of Delph's ideas are worthy of becoming law. The lowering of the reporting limit for gifts is important. There are some legislators who are dined daily by some of the state's most powerful lobbyists at the city's most expensive restaurants while the legislature is in session. All of those expensive meals never seem to trigger the $100 reporting requirement and so a legislator's constituents have no idea just how much he or she is taking in freebies from lobbyists. Delph's targeting of state university lobbyists is also a good idea. All of those free tickets to IU and Purdue sporting events really soften up legislators. Similarly, banning out-of-state junkets paid by lobbyists is a great idea.
I recall hearing a story about a freshly-appointed lawmaker a few years ago who took the place of a legislator forced out of office under an ethics cloud. The freshman legislator took a free fishing trip to Florida with a group of lobbyists (unreported, of course). Not surprisingly, that legislator resigned a few years later from the legislature to become a lobbyist, just like the ethically-challenged legislator who preceded him in office. And that brings up Sen. Pat Miller's legislation. Yes, we need a law barring state lawmakers from resigning their legislative seats to become lobbyists. She proposes a one-year cooling off period. A two-year period would be preferable but anything is better than what we have.
I particularly like Delph's idea to create a bipartisan commission to fairly draw legislative boundaries. So many bad lawmakers remain in office for decades because the legislative boundaries are drawn to favor incumbent members of the party drawing the boundaries. Districts should be drawn compactly and without regard to their political make-up. States like Iowa which have adopted this approach have seen far more competitive races for the state legislature and Congress.
Chances are that neither Delph's or Miller's legislation will go anywhere if the past is prologue. Indiana lawmakers like their all-too cozy relationship with lobbyists too much to give up the perks that come along with those relationships. It is nice to see that some lawmakers understand the problem, even after participating in the process for many years. Mayor Greg Ballard could take some cues from Delph. Less than a year into office and he already seems to have an almost depraved indifference to the ethical clouds which have enveloped his entire administration. And this after he ran a campaign promising the exact opposite.

From Advance Indiana

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


No can do! That's the message Governor Mitch Daniels is sending to state lawmakers about their spending wish lists for the upcoming 2009 legislative session.

"There are going to be things precious to me that have to be postponed, but I'm going to be in good company because that is going to be true of everybody," Daniels said. "Everybody is going to have to be willing to forgo something that they believe in and would like to do right now but can't."

The recession and flat revenue collections are contributing to a gloomy economic forecast for the state. The state is already facing a projected $763 million shortfall in the current budget that ends on June 30. New revenue projections predict the state must also cut an additional $600 million to stay in the black this current budget cycle.

Indiana is one of a handful of states not in the red, and Governor Daniels refuses to tap into the $1.4 billion currently in the rainy day fund to bail the state out.

Governor Daniels has already announced state employees will not get raises in 2009. He said he made the decision with regret, but "With the sobering challenges ahead of us, I believe the best we can do is to maintain current pay levels."

Daniels has also asked state agencies to cut another 3 percent in addition to the 7 percent he had previously ordered. Other cost-cutting measures include a strategic hiring freeze, restricting out-of-state travel, cutting operating expenses for higher education by 1 percent, putting numerous capital projects on hold, and transferring surplus budgets from state agencies to the state's main checking account.

Payments to public schools will continue to be made as budgeted, public safety will not be cut, and state employees will not be laid off. Those areas of state government will not be affected by the state's belt-tightening measures.

We applaud Governor Daniels for being fiscally responsible and having the courage to make tough decisions that are in the best interest of all Hoosiers and not just a certain select few.

It's too bad some of our local elected officials can't do the same.



Now is the time for the Indiana General Assembly to streamline and strengthen county government and abolish the antiquated system of township government.

It's the perfect time.

With the state facing dwindling revenue amid national recession, legislators won't need to spend hours debating costly new programs and spending proposals. They need, of course, to pass a slimmed-down state budget that should still include some infrastructure spending to create jobs and spur the sputtering economy, and education spending aimed at reducing the deplorable drop-out rate.

But they shouldn't just sit around complaining about lack of funding to do much of anything else.

They should do something other than pass a budget and adjourn. They should do things that don't cost a lot but could be of real value in these tough times.

Streamlining county government and doing away with the 1,008 townships — an unneeded, outmoded and costly layer of inefficient bureaucracy — wouldn't cost anything. It would save money.

Another reason why this is a perfect time is the political situation.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican who cannot run again for governor because of the two-term limit, can push now for this without appearing to be aiming at his re-election. He is pushing hard for these governmental changes.

The Indiana General Assembly is politically split. While this might seem to diminish chances for effective, equitable governmental reform, it is one of the reasons that now is the perfect time.

Too often we see "reform" passed for partisan purposes, especially in election law. But here is a situation in which the governor's proposals must win support in the Democratic-controlled House as well as in the Republican-controlled Senate. It must be bipartisan.

The governor cannot push through something aimed at punishing Democratic-tending cities and counties. His recent harsh criticism of South Bend and St. Joseph County in a WNDU-TV interview raised fear of this.

But even if the governor wanted to be vindictive — and there is no sign that his restructuring proposal is aimed at hurting any area — a Democratic House, with Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, could stop any such shenanigans.

Bauer and the governor have shown they can work together. They can again.

Also, the proposal is based on recommendations of a commission headed by Indiana Supreme Court Justice Randall Shepard and former Gov. Joe Kernan of South Bend. The commission took a nonpartisan look and recommended eliminating townships and taking numerous county offices off the ballot, eliminating elective offices now held by big bunches of both Republicans and Democrats.

A key proposal would provide for one elected county executive to replace the three-person board of county commissioners. As the governor noted, we don't elect three presidents or three mayors and businesses don't operate with three chief executive officers. Russia found that a troika doesn't work. It doesn't work well with county government either.

Through constitutional change, the county offices of assessor, treasurer, recorder, surveyor and coroner would be taken off the ballot. They would be appointed by the county executive, the way a president appoints members of a cabinet.

Most voters don't know these officials (can you name those officials in your county?) and often can't fix blame when it's not clear which official really is responsible for something like late tax bills. Put the authority with the county executive, who then can be blamed or retained at election time.

The governor has made a sensible compromise in saying the sheriff, clerk and auditor should still be elected.

He also compromised in calling for the combination school districts with less than 1,000 students. The commission put the minimum size at 2,000.

Moving municipal elections from odd-numbered years to even years when most other elections are held is one proposal that could be eliminated. The move was cited as saving money. But the cost is worth it to allow voters to concentrate on the city elections. Having voters pick city officials at a time such as during an outpouring for a presidential election could bring unfortunate decisions by folks not knowing or caring much about the city candidates listed way down on the ballot.

Most of the other changes should be approved. Now is the perfect time.

Jack Colwell is a columnist for The South Bend Tribune.

Monday, December 29, 2008



On Dec. 4, the Indiana Department of Education released the latest ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress) results for Indiana students. They were stagnant. Despite higher academic standards and more spending by taxpayers, scores showed no improvement from the previous year.

The next day, in an odd coincidence of timing, the Indiana State Teachers Association was before the Indiana Supreme Court demanding a trial on its lawsuit challenging the school funding formula. The suit alleges that inadequate funding deprives some Indiana children of the chance to meet proficiency standards.

No matter how many taxpayer dollars we throw at education, there are folks who think it's never enough. This gives them a handy excuse every time test scores fail to rise in proportion to the public school budget, which is pretty much all the time.

This year the bar graphs aren't even moving in the same direction. In fiscal 2009, Indiana taxpayers will spend a record $4.4 billion on K-12 education, one-third of the state budget and up from $4.2 billion in 2008. In 2008, 32 percent of eighth-graders failed the English portion of ISTEP, up from 31 percent in 2007. Thirty-one percent of tenth-graders failed the math portion of ISTEP this year, up from 30 percent the year before.

Do we really think funding is the problem? And that a class-action lawsuit by a hired gun for the teachers' union is the solution?

The ISTA has retained as lead counsel Michael D. Weisman of Boston, who spent more than 15 years earlier in his career arguing a similar case on behalf of Massachusetts public school kids. In 1993, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a decision in McDuffy v. Secretary holding that the state had a constitutional duty to provide all public school students with a quality education.

A lot has happened since 1993. For starters, Massachusetts and the rest of the country have passed more accountability laws and spent a lot more money on education. And there's not much more quality to show for it.

In a September report, "Does Spending More on Education Improve Academic Achievement?" the Heritage Foundation said, "Many people believe that lack of funding is a problem in public education, but historical trends show that American spending on public education is at an all-time high.

"We don't need a trial to tell us there's not much relationship between per pupil spending and academic achievement in Indiana. In 2005-06, the latest year for which national census data are available, we ranked 18th in spending per pupil at $11,028, above the national average. On the SAT this year, Indiana students showed a one-point gain in math, a one-point drop in reading and a two-point drop in writing for a combined score of 1485, below the national average of 1511.

Maybe the problem isn't how much money we're spending, but how we're spending it. My next column will take a look at that.

Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.


"No new taxes. Not now. Not ever." says Lake County Commissioner Fran DuPey, D-Hammond, in response to a county food and beverage tax and a vehicle registration surcharge. "How can I campaign for office on no taxes, and then one month later say, 'Oops, I changed my mind?' Every time there is a money problem that comes up, someone says let's put in this kind of tax or that kind of tax."

Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Schererville, is also adamant on no new taxes. "No. We have to do a lot more cutting before I could ever support that," Scheub said.

"If we had passed the income tax, would any cuts have been made?" Scheub asked. "They probably would have added people to the payroll."

In response to the tax caps imposed by House Bill 1001, the county's 2009 budget was not only $15 million slimmer but also eliminated 112 county jobs.

Lake County Councilman Tom O'Donnell, D-Dyer, supports a food and beverage tax as a way to raise revenue for a regional bus system. Hammond and East Chicago are planning to cut their bus service in 2009, and Councilman O'Donnell says he will raise the issue again as early as January.

"Without new revenues, I don't see how they can avoid collapse of our bus system otherwise," O'Donnell said.

Councilman Ted Bilski, D-Hobart, says he prefers an added vehicle registration fee excise tax on personal vehicles to help supplement road resurfacing projects.

However, Commissioner Roosevelt Allen, D-Gary, believes neither tax will bring in enough revenue to offset the freeze on property tax levies; a freeze mandated by the state for refusing to pass a county option income tax.

"If we are going to adopt any tax, we need to adopt the 1 percent local option income tax," Allen said.

Commissioner Allen, what part of "no" don't you understand? Commissioners Scheub and DuPey have it right. NO NEW TAXES. There is still plenty of waste and extravagance that can be cut from the county budget before you even entertain the idea of any new taxes or fees.


George Janiec, co-director of Team Hammond, a taxpayers' watchdog group, was at the Hammond City Council meeting in September 2007 when Salinas, the Streets Department foreman, offered the motion to increase his and other foremen's salaries by $5,000 each.

Janiec said he was outraged by what he saw.

"It's unethical, it's immoral and it's business as usual in Lake County, and it's disgusting," he said. "It's reprehensible, and it's everything the governor has been talking about."

Minutes of the meeting show no substantive debate about why the raises were being requested -- and no member directly challenged Salinas on having a conflict of interest. The measure passed 6-2.

Salinas did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Daniel C. Repay, Hammond council president, said that although the minutes don't reflect it, Salinas was approached by other council members and told "that from the smell test, you shouldn't be the one proposing that amendment."

But Repay -- who also is a Lake County employee -- didn't fault Salinas for voting for the raise.

"I wouldn't personally vote on it," he said, but added: "There are four other foremen. Maybe he's the best to know (that they deserve a raise). Maybe he shouldn't do it because he benefits from it, but do you penalize the other foremen? If you don't vote, that's in essence a 'no' vote."

From The Indianapolis Star
December 28, 2008

Sunday, December 28, 2008


One of the recommendations of the Kernan-Shepard Commission is to bar local government employees from being elected to the governing body that oversees their job. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider takes a look at the issue and explains why it is needed:

When Alfonso Salinas decided he and his fellow Streets Department foremen in Hammond deserved a $5,000 raise last year, he did more than just ask for it.

As a Hammond city councilman, he offered the motion amending the city budget, then voted to give himself the money.

Although other states have banned the practice, it's legal in Indiana for local government employees to serve on their own governing bodies -- and, as a result, vote on everything from department budgets to their own wages.

Actually, I believe the practice is already banned in Indiana by our state constitution. Unfortunately, the applicable provision has essentially been written out of the constitution by lack of enforcement. Article 3 of the Indiana Constitution establishes the separation of powers doctrine for state and local government. It reads:

The powers of the Government are divided into three separate departments; the Legislative, the Executive including the Administrative, and the Judicial: and no person, charged with official duties under one of these departments, shall exercise any of the functions of another, except as in this Constitution expressly provided.

Article II of the state's constitution also bars a person from "holding more than one lucrative office at the same time." The argument over what constitutes a "lucrative office" has been the subject of numerous court decisions. Earlier in our state's history, these two provisions worked to prevent the very problem visited upon by allowing a city worker like Salinas to serve on a city council. At some point, a couple of courts decided the provision only applied to state workers and not local government workers. This opened up the floodgates to local government employees seeking election to city and county councils. You need look no further than Indianapolis' own City-County Council to see the corrosive impact it has had on local government. The worst example is East Chicago, the city with the history of the most corruption in recent memory where every council member is also a government employee. The legislature should do what it failed to do years ago and legislatively ban what it is already banned by our constitution but not enforced by the courts.

Naturally, a double-dipper like House Speaker Pat Bauer opposes the change as do the lobbyists who represent local government workers, such as police and firemen. "One of the reasons that we allowed those local employees to be part of this process is that these are really part-time jobs, too," Bauer told Schneider. Slowly but surely, the people are being further and further removed from the democratic institutions we established for self-governance. It's happening at all levels of government. This is just another sad example of it.

From Advance Indiana
December 28, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


1. The total tax rate for the School City of Hammond is 2.1070, which ranks 11th in the state. This does not include the tax impact if the project had been approved.

2. There has been slow growth in the net assessed values in the School City of Hammond from 2003 to 2007. The 2003-pay-2004 certified net assessed value of property was $2.34 billion and the certified net assessed value in 2007-pay-2008 was $2.46 billion. For this reason, an increase in the tax levy if this project was approved would have a greater impact on the tax rate than if the net assessed value grew at a parallel rate to the gross assessed value over the same period of time (22.5 percent gross assessed valuation versus 5.22 percent net assessed valuation.)

3. The property tax impact of the project would be 61 cents per $100 of assessed value. Approval of this project would have doubled the circuit breaker impact in the school district in 2011. Additionally, the circuit breaker impact of this project on other taxing units would also have been significantly affected. Therefore, approval of the project would have significantly decreased the property tax revenue of other taxing units in Lake County that share a taxing district with the School City of Hammond.

4. The School Property Tax Control Board recommended denial of this project 6-3.

5. The enrollment patterns do not justify a project of this magnitude.

6. The debt service of the district ranks sixth highest in the state of .09561. This figure does not include the effect the approval of this project would have had.

From The Times 12/17/08

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Newly appointed Department of Local Government Finance Commissioner Timothy Rushenberg gave Hammond taxpayers an early Christmas present.

Commissioner Rushenberg denied the School City of Hammond's $165 million project to build a new high school in Hammond. The project included building a new high school, closing Hammond High, and converting Gavit into strictly a middle school.

School city officials had said the project would have little impact on property tax bills. However, what they failed to mention was the financing would be backloaded. Practically no principal would be paid in the early years of the debt, with a huge increase occurring during the last ten years of the bond. Apparently, Commissioner Rushenberg saw through the smoke and mirrors and was not swayed.

In a news release Commissioner Rushenberg expressed concerns about the cost of the project and the impact it would have not only on Hammond taxpayers but other taxing units in Lake County that are under the circuit breaker. That impact was one of his primary reasons for nixing the project.

Superintendent Walter Watkins is not ready to give up on the project. School leaders and the school district's legal and bond consultants will review the project before deciding on their next course of action. They could scrap the project altogether. They could scale back the project, or they could continue to pursue the current building plan.

However, under the new property tax legislation, a referendum would now be required.


Timothy J. Rushenberg was appointed commissioner of the Department of Local Government Finance by Governor Mitch Daniels on December 15, 2008. Prior to that appointment, Tim had served as the DLGF General Counsel for the DLGF since August 2007. As the agency’s general counsel, he assisted in drafting legislation included in Daniels’ 2008 property tax package approved by the General Assembly earlier this year that has resulted in average homeowner property tax decreased of more than 30 percent. He is a certified Level Two assessor-appraiser in Indiana.

Before starting with the Department in 2007, Tim worked as an associate attorney with the law firm of Sanders Pianowski LLP in his native Elkhart, Indiana. Prior to working with Sanders Pianowski LLP, Tim served on active duty in the United States Air Force as a judge advocate where he was as a prosecutor and defense counsel in military courts-martial, civil law and legal assistance attorney, and contracts attorney with the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps. Tim was stationed at Davis–Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona and Minot AFB in Minot, North Dakota. He was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal (first oak leaf cluster) and the Air Force Achievement Medal (first oak leaf cluster) for his active duty service. Prior to joining the Air Force Judge Advocate General's Corps, Tim worked as an attorney in the Office of Corporation Counsel for the City of Elkhart.

Tim received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Indiana-University-South Bend and graduated with his law degree from Valparaiso University School of Law. Tim is licensed to practice law in Indiana (active) and Washington, D.C. (inactive). Tim has published numerous articles on several issues, including HIPAA and international law.

From DLGF website, http://www.in.gov/dlgf/

Monday, December 15, 2008


When the 2009 General Assembly convenes in January, legislators will begin crafting the next 2 year budget for the state of Indiana.

However, lawmakers received a revenue forecast on Thursday that will give them $800 million less to spend from the current $26.4 billion plan. They must also cut $763 million to keep the current budget in balance with tax collections.

"We will adjust spending to preserve a balanced budget in Indiana," Governor Mitch Daniels said during a Statehouse news conference. "These are only the first and hardly the last of the hard decisions that we will have to make."

The state is expected to take in $488.6 million less in revenues for the fiscal year that ends in June and overall, $935 million less than what was anticipated when the current budget was drafted in 2007.

Governor Daniels has already ordered state agencies to cut their budgets by 3 percent and no annual pay raises for state employees, including himself and legislators.

Currently, Indiana has about $1.4 billion in its rainy day fund and is only one of a handful of states that is not in the red. However, Daniels has already told legislators he does not want them to tap into the fund. He is concerned the $1.4 billion will be needed later on if the economic downturn worsens or lasts longer than is predicted. The recession is expected to last through mid-2009, but Indiana's unemployment rate will not peak until early 2010.

We may not always agree with Governor Daniels, but we do agree with him on this issue.

Until the economy improves, make do with what you have and put all non-essential spending on hold.

It's too bad some of our local elected officials can't follow Daniels' lead on being fiscally prudent.


Hammond City Controller Barbara Cardwell won't be enjoying her retirement any time soon. The Board of Public Works and Safety has awarded Cardwell a consulting contract to provide financial services to the city beginning January 1, 2009.

Cardwell will be paid a fee of $90 an hour to be capped at $40,000. The contract runs through 2009. Did Cardwell make $90 an hour when she was Hammond City Controller?

Cardwell will assist the city with such financial issues as tax increment financing, sales tax increment financing and related bond issues. She will also assist Robert Lendi, the incoming City Controller.

Lendi, who left his position as economic development director, will become City Controller in January and has been working full time in the Controller's office since October 1. Lendi will become one of the city's highest paid administrators in January. He will make a base salary of $63,352. In addition, he will be paid $6,109 from the Water Department and $5,516 from the Sanitary District.

Apparently, the City of Hammond is not aware that the country is in a major economic downturn.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Cheryl Musgrave, Commissioner of the Department of Local Government Finance, has resigned effective Friday, December 12, 2008.

Musgrave was appointed by Governor Mitch Daniels in July 2007. A former Vanderburgh County Commissioner, Musgrave only intended serving as DLGF Commisioner for 18 months before returning home. She had privately informed Governor Daniels of her resignation weeks ago.

The Department of Local Government Finance is responsible for all property tax assessments as well as local government budgeting by cities, towns, counties, school districts, and other taxing bodies.

It is unclear if Musgrave had made a final decision regarding the new high school building project in Hammond.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


This guest column was sent to us by the Voice of New Albany, a citizen watchdog group and fellow taxpayer advocates. Alot of similarities between New Albany and Hammond.

DENHART: Vote ‘No’ on LOIT tax

Local Guest Columnist

December 04, 2008 07:19 pm

— I am writing in response to Detective Paul M. Haub’s article on Nov. 21. First of all, no one in our city is against the police and fire department. Some city and county employees need to stop making this a personal issue.

Citizens for Accountability is against wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars. We demand accountability to the taxpayers on how our tax dollars are spent.

LOIT tax should not be passed as it should not be a “bailout tax” for the city of New Albany. House Bill 1001 was designed to put accountability back on local government and not taxpayers.

There are normally two sides to an issue. Like I stated at the last Floyd County Council meeting, there are three sides — county’s, city’s and the taxpayers’.

The city claims they need more money, the county needs more money, but taxpayers need their money. The city needs to stay within its budget. Unlike the city, the county stays within its budget.

Our city of New Albany has a $16 million general fund and about 84 percent goes to police and fire. How can our city survive on about $3 million in our general fund? Can residents survive another tax?

Taxpayers are facing increased fees for sewers and stormwater in 2009. What you are saying to residents, Mr. Haub, is that residents should be penalized for working so our local government can spend more and tax us more? You work for the taxpayers, and the taxpayers don’t work for you.

The problem with local government is:
• Taxpayers have no accountability from local government
• No city take-home car policy
• No city cell phone policy
• City police officers no longer pay for gas
• City police officers use their cars for second jobs, shopping and errands
• Taxpayers pay for car insurance, maintenance and repairs on city police cars

We have officers on city and county councils voting for raises that affect their pay — is that not a conflict of interest?

Some police officers were supposed to retire and didn’t. Our top 20 paid employees in 2007 made $1.78 million?

Compared to other second-class cities, our police officers have an excellent salary and insurance package. So who is looking out for the taxpayers?

Indiana State Board of Accounts has listed violations by the New Albany Police Department for not keeping logs on mileage and cell phones for the last two years. We look at city financial reports and see the parks department spending $10,000 a month on cell phones. We can’t have much compassion for city employees. A few police officers and firefighters have been overpaid and never had to repay that money back. Nice bonus ... huh?

During the last 17 years, each new mayor has had his/her “feel good projects” at the expense of the taxpayers. Do we really need a statue for our city of Mr. Floyd or a new “Welcome to New Albany” sign? When money gets tight, police officers scream, “we need take-home cars,” and a majority of the officers live outside our city? How does that prevent crime in New Albany? Why is the police department not willing to make more concessions?

Officers received a 3 percent raise plus 1 percent longevity pay in 2007. It’s pretty sad when taxpayers see a former union representative stand before our City Council stating that “we got more in arbitration than we asked for. What are we supposed to do ... give it back?” That was truly unbelievable to hear. Taxpayers only wish we had that problem.

Residents have been fighting past and current mayors and council about spending, tax abatements, increased fees, city audits and wasteful spending. Our city wants us to support another tax?

There comes a time when taxpayers can afford only what we can afford, and not one nickel more.

We agree with Councilman Steve Price — go back to 2007 salary levels, as he suggested, and renegotiate contracts. Quit pricing yourselves out of a job. Stop being a detriment to the common good of the residents of New Albany.

When things get tough, every department should sacrifice just like the taxpayers. What happens if the economy gets worse?

What happens if the department of Local Government Finance cuts our budgets even more?

More families are losing their homes and will be moving out of our city. Where can you get new revenue? You mention about living paycheck to paycheck — imagine raising a family on $30,000 or under? If things are as tight as you say, why not sell the boat you own?

Taxpayers have to sacrifice to keep our homes, feed our kids, buy groceries, pay utilities and keep our cars running, so we can keep our jobs.

This is our solution for city government:
• New Albany police officers should do exactly what Louisville and Jeffersonville are doing — they pay, every two weeks, for taking home police cars or park these taxpayer-owned cars. Jeffersonville made a good decision and ruled police cars should not leave the city limits. New Albany should follow the same plan.
• Elected and appointed officials are driving around in taxpayers’ vehicles; they should pay every two weeks or park their vehicles at City Hall.
• We suggest that city employees give up three paid holidays a year or face layoffs.
• We suggest the mayor give up 17 percent of his salary and eliminate deputy mayor and city operation manager. Mayor England should lead by example instead of threatening to cut services or raise other fees.

Residents need police, fire and basic services; we don’t need politicians with personal agendas. It’s called accountability to taxpayers.

I would like to close this letter on a personal note. I have two retired brother-in-laws, who retired from NAFD, and a sister who retired from the NAPD. I know what they sacrificed for this city, and I know the politics that is being played here. Fear tactics don’t work with taxpayers. It’s common sense of needs versus wants. City police officers took the oath to protect residents. Elected officials also took an oath to do what is best for all residents.

We encourage Floyd County residents to contact County Council members and ask them to vote “No” on the LOIT tax on Tuesday.

Vicki Denhart is the president for Citizens for Accountability in Local Government in New Albany.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


If a person claiming to be a city or utility worker comes to your door, DO NOT LET THEM IN!

They will claim to be performing repairs in your alley and need to come inside to talk to you. IT IS A HOAX! They are actually casing your home to see what they could steal (your valuables and your money).

If they are a legitimate city or utility worker,

1) they will be in uniform with the city's or company's logo on it
2) they will have a city or company identification badge with their picture on it
3) they will have a city or utility vehicle with a logo on it parked outside your home or in your alley. They will never be in an unmarked vehicle.
4) if you yourself didn't specifically call for a repair, don't let anyone claiming to be a city or utility worker into your home

Three senior citizens (2 in Robertsdale and 1 in East Chicago) have had this scam pulled on them. Two were lucky; they were not hurt or robbed. The third was robbed of $500. Thankfully, she was not hurt.

If someone claiming to be a city or utility worker comes to your door and you don't recognize them, err on the side of caution and call 9-1-1. Do not under any circumstances let them in. The police would much rather have a false alarm than deal with an assault and robbery.

And most important, keep your doors locked at all times!

It is much better to be safe than sorry!


Beginning January1, 2009, the Lake County Assessor's office will assume the duties of setting values for properties in North Township. Voters in Munster, Hammond, East Chicago, Highland, and Whiting chose to abolish the North Township Assessor's office in a November 4 referendum.

The Cedar Creek, Eagle Creek, Hanover, West Creek and Winfield township assessors have already been consolidated into the county assessor's office as mandated by the state legislature.

From this consolidation and downsizing of six township assessor offices, Lake County taxpayers will see a savings of more than $683,000.

North Township Assessor John Matonovich will retain his title of assessor until 2010 but will have his salary reduced from its current level of $52,290. He can apply for a job in the county assessor's office but will only receive a salary of $25,000. Matonovich has already indicated he will take a position.

The remaining 18 staff members from Matonovich's office will have to compete for the 8 to 10 positions that are available in the county assessor's office.

"We will try to take them for experience, qualification and no political BS," Lake County Assessor Paul Karras said. "I have to have qualified people. Those who we feel don't measure up to the task, they're gone."

Nine of 10 full-time staff members from the five smaller township assessors offices were absorbed into the county assessor's office. The five assessors are currently working at half-pay, and it is not sure whether they will remain on Karras's staff in 2009.


In a historic move, the Lake County Council unanimously adopted a 2009 budget that was $15 million slimmer than the previous year's budget.

"This will be the first year I can recall we actually worked below the previous year's job (budget)," said Councilman Larry Blanchard who has served on the county council since 1994.
Councilman Blanchard said the county not only has a balanced budget but also a cushion which will eliminate the need for a county option income tax.

Since the early 1970's, county government spending increased every year; sometimes by as much as 5%. Not so, this year because the county's property tax collections were frozen by the state for failing to pass a county income tax. Lake County is now the only county in the state of Indiana without a county income tax.

Property owners will pay roughly 56 cents for every $100 of assessed value on their homes, farms, small businesses or industry. The county will take in a total of $125.8 million, which will be $6.1 million less than last year's tax draw.

The $15 million in budget cuts were achieved as follows:

1) Elimination of 112 county jobs
2) Hiring freeze
3) Incentives for early retirement
4) Consolidation of document printing & business machine purchases
5) Elimination of contributions to employees' individual retirement accounts
6) Assuming government user fees for electronic court paper filings & sheriff services

The 2009 budget will include 3% pay increases for 170 county police officers. Also, $1.5 million will be divided up among the county's 2,000 employees as one-time bonuses. The council members say these bonuses are justified because county employees have had their salaries frozen for the past two years. Also, with the 112 job eliminations, remaining employees will have to assume more work.

This budget is a win-win for the weary taxpayers of Lake County and is finally, a step in the right direction.

However, we are sure there is much more that could be done to reduce the waste in county government spending.

Monday, December 1, 2008


George Janiec led off the November Team Hammond Taxpayers' meeting. He talked about the 2009 Hammond city budget and the efforts of the mayor to get substantial raises for the Fire Chief and Information Technology employee.

The budget was approved by the council, but the raises for both employees were not included. Council members felt it would be unfair because other city employees were only receiving 3% raises. The mayor threatened to veto the budget and would put the budget in peril of not meeting the December 1st deadline required by the DLGF.

George also covered claims submitted to the city council for payment. A claim for $939.75 from Pet Playground was submitted in October for aquarium maintenance, fish and other supplies for the mayor's salt-water aquarium. This money was to be paid from the mayor's gaming fund. Even though it is casino money, George stated this money belongs to the taxpayers and not just the mayor.

The other claim mentioned was submitted by Bose Public Affairs Group, an Indianapolis based lobbying group for $25,356.75. The city of Hammond pays Bose to wine and dine area legislators on matters pertaining to Hammond including taking State Reps. Mara Candelaria Reardon and Dan Stevenson as well as Mayor McDermott to White Sox and Cubs games. This claim was also to be paid for out of the mayor's gaming fund.

The county budget was also covered by George. The county council still needed to eliminate 2.8 million from the budget and were optimistic they could find ways to make the needed cuts. Despite assurances from Sheriff Dominguez he would make substantial cuts to his budget, very little was pared from his budget. The county council passed his budget by a vote of 6 to 1. The county council would be looking to other departments to make the final cuts.

The NIRPC planning forum is scheduled for Saturday, December 6th at the Radisson in Merrillville. If anyone is interested in attending this forum, they can call NIRPC or go online to their website to get an application.

Jim Premeske spoke next about tax abatements and TIFs. He explained what a tax abatement is and how it is applied; what a TIF is and how it is used, and the difference between a tax abatement and a TIF. Cabela's was used as a TIF example, and Jim Sheehan gave figures on the amount of property taxes Cabela's should pay and what they actually pay.

He also gave specific examples of several university studies that show TIFs are not good for economic development; and in fact, TIFs can do more harm to a community because local businesses (who pay taxes) are forced to close. Some states are even rethinking TIFS and eliminating them for retail development.

Elizabeth Kurella talked next about the Lincoln-Lake apartments in Robertsdale. A contractor for the demolition of the buildings has been chosen, and five new single family homes are to be built where the apartments once stood. Elizabeth questioned the cost of the project. Between the purchase price of the apartments and demolition, the project will be close to one million dollars before development even takes place. Several audience members came out in support of the project believing it will cut down on crime, but other members would rather see that money used towards putting more police out on the street as a deterrent to crime.

JoAnn Palko touched on the status of the Statue of Liberty project for Wolf Lake. The results of the engineering study concluded it was not feasible for the statue to be erected on Boy Scout island. The wind and exposure to ultraviolet light were the biggest determining factors in this study. For now, the statue is being stored in a city warehouse. There are several options for the statue. The top half could be put on display in the Welcome Center at the Borman Expressway, the statue could be used in summer parades, or the statue could be sent back to the original owner and designer in Griffith.

There will be no December meeting for Team Hammond. Meetings will resume in January.

Team Hammond would like to wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


To the relief of Robertsdale residents, Lady Liberty will not be calling Wolf Lake her home; weather conditions make the site unsuitable for the foam statue.

Don Corson of Indianapolis-based American Structurepoint, Inc. told the Redevelopment Commission last week the biggest factor was the wind followed by year-round exposure of ultraviolet light.

"The statue is truly a remarkable work of art," Corson said, "But it is just that - a work of art."

Corson said the high-tech coating is unsuitable for outdoor exposure. Also, the steel bars holding the 377 foam pieces together were not designed for engineering and would all need to be replaced.

"There are alot of technical challenges for outdoor display," Corson said. "To convert it into a permanent attraction would require a significant investment of resources." Or in other words, lots of moolah!

Marty Wielgos, Mayor McDermott's Chief of Staff, says the issue of putting the statue outside is not dead just on hold for the time being.

So for now, Lady Liberty waits in a city warehouse. The top 97 feet of her could go on display at the Indiana Welcome Center. There are also ideas for the statue to be displayed during the month of July and used in various summer parades. Or the statue can always be returned to the owner and creator, Frank Brummett of the Beryl Martin Co. if Brummett is not satisfied with the plans the City of Hammond has for the statue.

The bottom line is: the city wasted $30,000 of TIF money that could have been more wisely spent. Rather than spending $30,000 to have an engineering firm tell them it's not a good idea, the city could have asked Robertsdale residents or Wolf Lake windsurfers for their input. And it wouldn't have cost the city a dime!

Monday, November 24, 2008


The next Team Hammond Taxpayers' Group general meeting will be Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at the Woodmar United Methodist Church, 7320 Northcote Avenue. Meet n' greet will begin at 6:30 p.m. with the general meeting to follow at 7:00 p.m.

Items on the agenda will be city and county budgets, the DLGF ruling on the petition objection, and the feasibility study on the Statue of Liberty for Wolf Lake.

Everyone interested in good government and property tax reform is welcome to attend.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The city can't afford bus service or health care but can afford fish for a salt-water aquarium.

You've got to be kidding, right?

On October 24, 2008, a claim was submitted to the city council in the amount of $423.00 for purchases made at Pet Playground, 6944 Kennedy Avenue.

A variety of tropical fish (Black Bar Soldier, Yellow Angel, 2 Bluefin Damsels, Pajama Cardinals) were purchased for a salt-water aquarium.

Further investigation revealed claims in 2006 for $2,239.35, in 2007 for $3,693.95 and in 2008 (up until October) for $2,766.50 for fish, salt and other aquarium-related items. This comes to a grand total of $8,699.80!

Where did the money come from to pay for the $8,699.80 in fish and aquarium supplies? The mayor's discretionary gaming fund. Contrary to what the mayor believes; gaming revenue is still taxpayers' money!

Hammond citizens will lose their ability to get to work, the doctor or grocery shop when bus service is cut as of June 30, 2009 but hey! the mayor has a beautiful salt-water aquarium with tropical fish for him to enjoy.

Well you know what they say, it's all about the RIGHT PRIORITIES!


At Monday night's Hammond City Council meeting, council members approved a heavily amended 2009 city budget.

Missing from the budget was the clause which would have raised Fire Chief Dave Hamm's salary to parity with Police Chief Brian Miller's salary. In Mayor McDermott's proposed 2009 city budget submitted in August, Hamm's annual salary would have jumped from $70,000 to $82,400. Hamm's salary was bumped back down to $72,100 after the city council nixed the request.

McDermott argued that the city council was risking a $250,000 lawsuit for violating the firefighters' contract requirements; however, Council President Dan Repay said the city council had agreed to give all city employees a 3 percent raise. The issue was a matter of fairness.

"If Dave Hamm wants to sue us, that's a chance we'll have to take," Councilwoman JoAnn Matanovich said.

Had the City Council voted down the amended budget, they would have had until December 1 (state deadline for 2009 budgets) to meet in a special session. Otherwise, the budget submitted to the state would have been at the amount submitted in September. (Is this a good thing or a bad thing for taxpayers? What is the difference in the two amounts?)

The issue first came up in February with a city ordinance to achieve parity between the Fire Chief and Police Chief. The ordinance was rejected by failure of the council to bring it to a vote.

If the mayor declines to sign off on the budget, the 2009 budget would revert back to the 2008 budget amount.


During the next two weeks, the Lake County Council will schedule four meetings to finalize a 2009 cost-cutting budget.

Budget workshop sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday, November 21, 10 a.m. Saturday, November 22, and 5:30 p.m. Monday, November 24. The final meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 25 and will be for the second and final reading of the 2009 budget.

County council members said they are only two-thirds of the way to cutting $15 million from current spending levels. This amount must be cut from the budget in response to declining property tax revenues imposed by the tax caps of House Bill 1001. A reduction of 66 full-time jobs has already been pledged by county officials.

Christine Cid, Lake County Council President, said she will make new public recommendations shortly regarding the sheriff, coroner and assessor offices.

In September, Sheriff Roy Domingues announced 48 payroll positions would be lifted from the
county tax levy. This would be achieved through job elimination, privatization and a new eviction fee landlords must now pay resulting in a savings of $2 million.

In her opinion, Cid said the sheriff's cost-cutting measures weren't enough. Cid has already said if certain county departments don't make the required budget cuts, the county council will do it for them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


In a six page opinion, DLGF Commissioner Cheryl Musgrave ruled against a petition filed by fifteen taxpayers challenging the City of Hammond's 2008 budget.

Members of Team Hammond Taxpayers' Group had presented the challenge at the DLGF hearing on October 30, 2008 in Crown Point.

The DLGF could not determine whether the petitition objection had been filed withing the 10-day time limit but decided to err on the side of the taxpayers. The Lake County Auditor's office was cited by Musgrave for failing to publish the approved tax rates within the 15-day deadline and for not time stamping the taxpayers' objection.

"A city's decision about its spending priorities is a policy decision under the purview of the city and its elected officials," Musgrave said. Therefore, allegations of "reckless spending" by the taxpayers did not constitute grounds by which the DLGF could overrule or void provisions of the city's budget.

In instances where a city officials uses tax dollars for a personal vacation, the DLGF or the State Board of Accounts could take action, but the DLGF found no such violations in the 2008 budget.

"The estimated budget published by the city is just that - an estimate - that is subject to change during the public budget hearing and adoption process," Musgrave said. The DLGF does not view mathematical errors as critical in the estimated budget. They are only estimates and are not the final amounts in the budget order.

Musgrave put the city's debt limit at $16.4 million which would not exceed the constitutional debt limit of 2 percent of the city's adjusted value of taxable property. Lease rental agreements for financing capital projects are not included in the 2 percent limit. Judgement bonds of $2.86 million was the only debt Musgrave found applicable to the state statute regarding debt limit.

Regarding government inefficiencies and taxpayer concerns, Commissioner Musgrave suggested taxpayers urge their local officials to action under the Government Modernization Act and the Home Rule Act.

Although Jim Premeske of Team Hammond was impressed with the quick response of the DLGF as the taxpayers had requested as well as the extensive citing of state statutes, he questioned the purpose of a public notice if the notice is not required to be accurate.

"The DLGF states taxpayer challenges are based upon estimates," he said. "What other figures could the citizens possibly have?"

He also challenged the DLGF's finding that the city only has a $2.86 debt limit pertaining to the state limit. "This must be creative accounting at its best," Premeske said.

After "cautious and detailed due diligence", Premeske said Team Hammond will have to decide if they want to pursue the matter further.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance) gave approval to Lake County's property tax rates last Friday giving the go-ahead for county officials to begin calculating reconciliation tax bills for property owners.

Lake County Auditor Peggy Holinga-Katona says her office can begin figuring out the final tax bills which will be mailed out in January with payment due 15 days later.

Provisional bills were sent out earlier in October and contained half the tax relief enacted by state legislators. The other half of tax relief will be included in the January reconciliation bill.

Katona also said homeowners will be able to go to the county treasurer's website by the week of Thanksgiving to find out what they owe.

Monday, November 10, 2008


By a vote of 25,305 to 17,550, voters chose to abolish the North Township Assessor's office and shift the duties to the county assessor.

And it is easy to see why the referendum to eliminate the North Township Assessor went the way it did on election day.

Despite John Matanovich's claim about the county having outsiders come in now to assess your properties, most of us remember the state calling in CLT to do Lake County's assessment because some (not all) township assessors were not fairly assessing properties to begin with.

How many of us had to go through the process of appealing unfair assessments, paying for appraisals, and dealing with the bureaucratic nightmare that went along with the appeals?

How many of us had to wait 1-1/2 to 2 years to get their first appeals straightened out?

How many of us have had to file more than one appeal because the township assessor refused to honor a state-certified appraisal and went back to the original CLT assessment?

How many of us are still waiting for resolution of their 2006 appeals, have overpaid their tax bills and are waiting for refunds?

And if the North Township Assessor's office was doing such a swell job, how come there continue to be so many appeals?

If an employee in the private sector does not do their job properly, they get fired and replaced with an employee who will.

Guess the voters finally got smart or fed up or both. Take your pick!

Monday, November 3, 2008


On Thursday, October 30, 2008 at the Lake County Government Center, the DLGF held a hearing regarding the petition objection filed by the Team Hammond Taxpayers' Group regarding the 2007 Hammond city budget.

Indiana Code 36-6-6-14.5
Objection by taxpayers; department of local government finance hearing and action; appeal Sec. 14.5. (a) If the legislative body issues a special order under section 14 of this chapter authorizing the executive to borrow money, not less than ten (10) taxpayers in the township who disagree with the special order may file a petition in the office of the county auditor not more than thirty (30) days after notice of the special order is given. The petition must state the taxpayers' objections and the reasons why the taxpayers believe the special order to be unnecessary or unwise.

What does this mean? If taxpayers disagree and object to a special order (in this case the Hammond city budget) not less than ten taxpayers may file a petition asking for a department of local government finance hearing and action.

Why was this action necessary? Because Dale Scopelite and Jim Sheehan, members of Team Hammond, found not only numerous errors but many inequities in the budget itself.

Dale Scopelite presented most of the case calling into question such expenditures such as $2,500 in gaming money spent on a Christmas party and $600,000 for a football field. Pay raises amounting to $10 million since 2005 were also questioned given the city's financial woes and the elimination of the health department and city bus service in June 2009.

Scopelite also targeted gaming money: $35 million is distributed among the mayor and six council districts yet a separate accounting shows $43 million in gaming money. The $8 million difference could be used to towards property tax relief.

Jim Sheehan questioned the city's debt, which is limited by the state to 2% of the city's assessed value (Indiana Constitution). The city's debt should be limited to $46 million yet the city's debt is at $96 million.

Jim Premeske brought up the parity clause for the Hammond Fire Chief and Police Chief and the amount of taxpayer money spent on consultants doing city employees' work.

Team Hammond wants itemized costs relating to property taxes and gaming money. "We have shown the numbers don't add up," Premeske said.

This matter now goes to Cheryl Musgrave, DLGF Commisioner for a ruling.

What will this mean to Hammond taxpayers? If Musgrave rules in favor of Team Hammond's objection, it will result in a lower tax levy for Hammond and ultimately lower property taxes for Hammond homeowners and businesses.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Legislative Services Agency projects that the 2009 Lake County Government General Fund must be 10.5 Million less than 2008. And since 1998 there has been an 83% increase in property taxes to defray the cost of county government. This went for increases in the number of employees, employee benefits, and inflation. Each month, after the budget, additional funding is requested.

In 2007 the Lake County Government Tax Levy Apportionment amounted to $127,685,000.

Here's a breakdown of where the money goes:

Administration-6.28% $ 8,020,000
State Regulated-6.06% $ 7,740,000
Parks-5.87% $ 7,500,000
Reassessment-Assessors-5.43% $ 6,930,000
Infrastructure-3.47% $ 4,425,000
Criminal Justice-72.89% $93,070,000

Almost 73% of the county's budget goes to the Criminal Justice Departments which include the Sheriff, Prosecutor, Clerk and Courts. Full-time employees in those departments have increased from 30.89% in 1970 to 67.97% in 2003; an increase of 100%. Since the Criminal Justice Departments make up over 70% of the county's budget, these departments can afford to make larger cuts in their budgets.

The county must make a 15% reduction in its general fund in 2009. It's no longer if the county wants to, it's they have to. Elected officials and department heads can no longer submit unrealistic budgets. They must make concrete cuts as well as provide a plan showing where these cost reductions are to be made. Christine Cid, President of the Lake County Council, has already said if elected officials and department heads do not make reductions in their budgets, the county council will do it for them.

The County Finance Committee is not advocating a LOIT (local option income tax). By achieving an overall 15% reduction in the county's general fund, the budget shortfall can be eliminated.

Members of the County Finance Committee are:
Larry Blanchard
Ted Bilski
Christine Cid
Roosevelt Allen
Peggy Holinga-Katona
John Petalas

Contact them and let them know you support fiscal responsibility on the county's part.


Voters in 43 townships spread across 22 counties willdecide in a Nov. 4 referendum if they want to shift assessment duties from their township assessors to their respective county assessors.

The ballot question reads:

Should the assessing duties of the elected townshipassessor in the township be transferred to the county assessor?

MySmartgov.org says “yes,” and urges you to vote “yes”Nov. 4.

Until recently, property in Indiana was assessed by1,008 township assessors in 1,008 different ways. Some assessors’ work may have been impeccable, but the taxpayers in their townships still may have been paying more than their fair share of taxes because of the less competent job by an assessor down the road.

In fact, a 2005 study by the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute found that 80 percent of the townships did not meet international standards for uniformity. The assessments were well outside the accepted error rate of plus or minus 15 percent – that is, international standards say it is acceptable for a $100,000 house to be assessed anywhere from $85,000 to $115,000.

The error rate in Indiana was 35 percent. In other words, houses that would sell for $100,000 were assessed for tax purposes anywhere from $65,000 to $135,000.

A more recent sampling compared two houses across the street from each other. House A sold in July 2006 for $101,000. House B sold four months later, in November 2006, for $99,900 -- $1,100 less. Yet 2006 taxes, payable in 2007, on House A were $1,467, while those on House B were $2,222 – 51 percent higher. Still another house in the same township sold for $102,000 in May 2006 and was taxed that year, payable in 2007, at $1,166 a year – a 91 percent discount compared to taxes on House B.

The institute’s study – like so many before –illuminated problems that leaders across Indiana have known for years existed. Their questions about the number of assessors – then called “listers” – almost as soon as the system was devised nearly 200 years ago. And there have been question and studies and reform efforts since then.

Still, not much changed.

In spring 2007, Gov. Mitch Daniels asked a group of leaders from across the state to study the issue. The Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform, led by former Gov. Joe Kernan and Chief Justice Randall Shepard of the Indiana Supreme Court, issued a report in December 2007 that advanced 27 specific recommendations for streamlining local government. One recommendation was to shift assessing duties from thetownships to the counties.

The 2008 General Assembly enacted several reforms recommended by the Kernan-Shepard Commission, as it came to be known. Among other things, lawmakers shifted assessing duties in 965 townships to their respective counties. That law went into effect July 1,2008.

But the legislature decided that voters in the largest townships – those with 15,000 or more parcels of property – should decide the issue for themselves in a referendum that would be held in concert with the Nov.4 election.

MySmartgov.org is organizing a grass-roots effort to persuade voters to vote “yes” on the township assessors’ ballot question. After Nov. 4, the organization will continue its drive to find individual Hoosiers and civic organizations who are interested in common-sense government and who will urge their legislators to enact the rest of the Kernan-Shepard recommendations.

Did You Know?

Property taxpayers in Allen, Vanderburgh, and Vigo counties filed more appeals to their assessments in 2007 than in 2003, after the first market value reassessment. Taxpayers filed 72% more. If the assessment quality is improving, why are there more and not fewer appeals?


Incumbent Assessor’s in St. John, North, Calumet, Ross, Hobart, and Center Townships will face the voters next Tuesday to confront their futures. Voters in these urban or semi urban townships of more than 15,000 parcels will decide whether the township assessor duties will continue to be to be performed by their respective elected township assessors, or will they revert to the county assessor as in 1008 other Indiana townships. This is truly the first step to the elimination of the antiquated township government system.

Affected incumbent assessors have begun their advertising spin, touting the unexcelled job they think they do for the taxpayers. Much of what is promoted is pure rhetoric; ignoring the facts that should be considered; and personalizing the choice to their townships. Many pray the public will be too ignorant to employ the facts. In general, this promotion of township assessors ignores the fact that this could be a one-time, forever decision; there is currently no provision to reconsider this issue in the future.

All Township assessors and their staffs are funded from the County budget, not a township’s. If they are grossly inefficient, they go to the county for a supplement. While a few rural county assessor’s have traditionally been very effective, their jobs are already gone. Some of their staff’s are assumed by the County Assessor to pick up his extra workload. This will also happen after the referendum for those townships voting against their township assessor.

Since all township assessor’s staffs are funded by the county it would seem appropriate that the decision will be county wide. The intelligent voters of St. John Township might choose to delete the very effective Hank Adams, while the less educated voters of Calumet Township might choose to retain Booker Blumenfeld, the least efficient assessor in Indiana. If this referendum were a county wide decision at least we would throw out the bad with the good.

Let’s review a few facts on township assessors:

Township # of staff
North 21
Calumet 32
St. John 16
Winfield 1 Full-time & 2 Part-time
Center 6

Winfield township (who now has no assessor) processed only 20 fewer assessment transactions than Calumet. Compare the staffing!

Center township now accounts for 18% (200M) of total Lake County Assessed value; St. John Township 40%. (this is an imperfect evaluation e.g.: Hammond’s assessed valuation went up 9% with one assessment {Horseshoe}).
Form 11’s are the “Annual adjustment of assessed evaluation”: they are the backbone of an assessor’s job. In 2006 the cost to prepare a form 11 in St. John Township was $6.80, while the cost in Calumet Township was $211.00.
Last year Republican Hank Adams (St. John Township) requested a supplement of $16,000 for additional postage for Form 11’s. Calumet Township requested $98,000 for overtime to do the same job. The County Council cut Hank’s request in half, while reducing Calumet Township’s by $10,000.

Each township assessor appoints a “Chief Deputy”, this is the unelected, certified, specialist who actually runs the assessor’s office. Ross township’s deputy makes half of what Calumet Township’s does.

If the aggregate reduction in assessor staff positions resulting from elimination of township assessors was a mere 25 positions the savings would be half a million dollars.

This decision is in your hands.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Governor Mitch Daniels appointed three members to the newly created Distressed Unit Appeals Board. The three members are from the South Bend area, Warsaw and Kokomo.

The Distressed Unit Appeals Board will be made up of nine members and will ultimately decide how much spending cities, towns, and townships will need to cut from their budgets to be in compliance with the new state law capping property taxes (House Bill 1001).

There is still the possibility a representative from Northwest Indiana could be appointed to the board and would hear appeals from governmental units in Lake County.

We have a great suggestion for the Governor if he is looking for an appointment from Northwest Indiana.

George Janiec from Team Hammond Taxpayers' Group would be an excellent addition to the Distressed Unit Appeals Board.He would not be a rubberstamp, he would honestly and fairly look at the appeals, and he would make the right decisions which would benefit the taxpayers and not the entrenched politicians of Lake County.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


State lawmakers want to raise revenue by taxing more services
By Tim Evans, Indy Star

Indiana could eliminate property taxes for homeowners and cut the state sales tax rate by applying the sales tax to more services, two state senators told a legislative commission Wednesday.

The plan laid out by Sens. Michael Young, R-Indianapolis, and Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, was among about a half-dozen proposals presented to the Commission on State Tax and Financing Policy and was the only suggestion that seemed to resonate with the panel.

Waltz said the plan, a refined version of a proposal the senators offered during the 2008 legislative session, was based on sales tax data that lawmakers didn't have earlier in the year, when he and Young offered several options for replacing homestead property taxes.

State Rep. Peggy Welch, D-Bloomington, who chairs the summer study commission, said she does not expect the panel to recommend any legislative action on tax reform next year.

"We are more of a receptacle for information, a place that brings it all together," she said.

Even Waltz said he is not ready to advocate for any particular plan for replacing property taxes. He said his role in bringing the sales tax plan before the commission was to show there are feasible funding alternatives and to encourage discussion about the options available to lawmakers.

Young said he plans to introduce a bill in the 2009 session that would eliminate property taxes on owner-occupied homes by expanding the sales tax, but he will leave it up to lawmakers to decide what services should be taxed.

The revised plan would replace the $2.2 billion generated each year by taxes assessed on owner-occupied homes by expanding the sales tax base, Young said. He said some services, such as medical and legal bills, along with unprepared foods, likely would remain exempt from the sales tax. But dozens of other services would be taxed. Services taxed now include cable and satellite television services, utilities and some phone services.

With the broader tax base, Young said, the state could reduce the sales tax rate from 7 percent to 5.5 percent. Lawmakers raised the sales tax from 6 percent to 7 percent this year as part of the property tax relief package approved by the General Assembly.

State Rep. Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, called the plan a "concept worthy of further deliberation."

State Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, who was a driving force behind legislation enacted this year that cut residential property taxes, said he supported expanding the sales tax to cover many new services.

But, Kenley said, he did not pursue that option this year because expanding the sales tax would be "a hard sell" and he didn't want to derail immediate tax relief.

Eight states tax fewer than the 23 categories of services out of 160 that are subject to the Indiana sales tax, Young said, and businesses would likely see some savings with the overall sales tax rate falling.

"It may not have the devastating effect some people predict," Young explained.

From the Indy Star
Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Kudos to Tim Wesco who writes the Eliminate Property Taxes blog. Last year he picked up an article quoting our Governor as saying he believes property tax repeal deserves a very serious look. We hope he will pick up and continue the blog this year.

Please spread the word about the following news:

On September 10th a group of legislators are meeting with different property tax repeal citizen leaders to discuss how repeal can happen. Representative Peggy Welch of Bloomington is heading the committee.

Represenatives from HFFT, StopIndiana.com and Advance America will be there. The work of two different Indiana economists will be closely examined. Everyone is in agreement that the only answer which is fair to all is repeal.

It is up to us to keep pressure on our legislators. Now is the time to write to your state senator and your state representative to tell them that you expect them to first CUT SPENDING and second find a path to make property tax repeal a reality. Tell our state legislators that tweeking an already broken system is not good enough and that the ONLY long lasting solution is property tax repeal. And while you are at it, remind them that come the next election they can have citizens dancing in joy or mad as hell. Be sure to emphasize that you and everyone you know is watching the tax repeal issue very closely. And there is no more REGRESSIVE tax than property tax. WHO IS MY LEGISLATOR?

We hear that just one of the two new Indiana casinos opened in July 2008 is bringing in $6 million to $13 million per day and that the state gets 50% of the revenues. This is new revenue that just started to roll in. We also know that there are more than 150 different taxes and fees in Indiana. With all that taxation going on, surely our state has enough backbone to give citizens the opportunity for true homeownership without the fear of the government taking your house one day due to taxation outside of your control. There is another word for what they do now. Legalized extortion.

From Hoosiers for Fair Taxation

Friday, August 8, 2008


Perhaps it’s a fitting tribute to a country that wore the ‘Biggest Polluter’ crown for so long: a 130-foot, 50,000-lb replica of the Statue of Liberty, made entirely of foam and sprayed-on plastic. The company that commissioned the statue, however, wasn’t trying to be ironic or make a point. They really thought it was a good idea to construct this thing – which is only 13 feet
shorter than the original Statue of Liberty – made up of what the Sierra Club calls ‘the ultimate waste product’.
YTB (Your Travel Biz) has commissioned the Beryl Martin Company of northwest Indiana to create the statue for YTB’s travel convention, held in August 2008 in St. Louis. See the video below:

Styrofoam, of course, is one of the worst substances ever created in terms of its effect on the environment. It’s not biodegradable, and it takes up massive amounts of space in landfills.

So, what’s going to happen to this polluting monster of a sculpture after the YTB is done with it? It’ll end up in the trash. YTB is donating it to a community to stand as ‘a memorial to fallen soldiers’, but it won’t stay completely intact for long. What do you think the community is going to do with it when it starts deteriorating?

Let’s run down the environment-killing aspects of this very stupid idea:
  • It’s made of styrofoam.
  • It's coated in plastic.
  • It will take 48 semi trucks to move it from northwest Indiana to St. Louis, Missouri in August. That’s a lot of gas and auto exhaust.
  • Despite the plastic coating, it won’t be long before this thing starts falling apart and raining styrofoam bits all over the place.
  • It cost $6 million to make.

The unveiling of YTB’s giant statue of liberty is meant to get them plenty of publicity before their convention. Their goal is to be the world’s biggest travel company by 2011. Let’s give them negative publicity instead: YTB is now on our radar as a foe of the environment. They’ve already got a bad rep for being a rip-off pyramid scheme, so it’s not like many people will be surprised.

From earthfirst.com August 9, 2008



Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time Ever, July 8th.

Yep, the news is a little old, but it keeps getting worse. Only 9% think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Worse, only 12% feel any meaningful legislation is being passed. "The majority of voters (62%) say Congress has not passed any legislation to improve life in America." This is a sad time for America, the greatest repository of freedom the world has ever seen. For Americans to lose faith in their leaders says something about our vacuum of leadership and the corresponding secret and unhealthy method of 'hotlining' the majority of legislation that's passed without leaving the comforts of a Senator's office, limo, or campaign trail. Failure to read a proposed bill, sometime 400-500 pages, given 15 minutes to review it by phone, and having up to 40 of those bills pass every day by phone via 'unanimous consent' or 'hotlining' is beyond the reason of any representative's responsibility to his constituents, his conscience, and his duty to be part of the answer instead of the problem. And failure to respond by phone endorses automatic passage on bills never seen; never read; but involve billions of our taxpayer money. How often we hear from those running: 'I just want to make a difference'. Yes, they have made a difference for the worse, by being part of the dumbing down of America and raping citizens of faith, money, and violating the Constitution; not the least of which is preserving domestic tranquility and failure to 'preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution'.

Lobbyists contribute to this problem by their $ influence. Desired legislation in exchange for healthy campaign contributions or favors would constitute a bribe if proven that a 'quid pro quo' exists (tit for tat), but most are more clever than that. The withholding of money may send a message. Take a look at Build-Pac., the political action committee of the National Homebuilders. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 2 million already poured into the 2008 congressional campaigns, but now they threatened to withhold any more because they didn't get all the provisions they wanted. "Lobbies like to pretend that congressional action and their donations aren't tied, " said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "But the home builders just confirmed that they are."

Take a look below posted at open secrets http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/lookup2.php?strID=C00000901

National Assn. of Home Builders 2008 PAC Summary Data
Total Receipts: $3,120,469
Total Spent: $2,240,402
Begin Cash on Hand: $ 826,669
End Cash on Hand: $1,706,734
Debts: $ 0
Date of last report: June 30, 2008

Contributions from this PAC to
federal candidates (list recipients)
(45% to Democrats, 55% to Republicans): $ 977,000

Contributions to this PAC from
individual donors of $200 or more
(list donors): $2,348,885

Among the recipients of moneymade
public as of June 30th '08 by the FEC:

Burton, Dan (R-IN)

Buyer, Steve (R-IN)

Donnelly, Joe (D-IN)

Pence, Mike (R-IN)

Visclosky, Pete (D-IN)

For a full listing go to: http://www.opensecrets.org/pacs/pacgot.php?cmte=C00000901&cycle=2008

It is quite obvious that the accumulated value of small potato contributions from thousands of lobbyists and pacs can readily provide a healthy campaign war chest for those seeking re-election. Just don't answer your office hotline and lobbyists' legislation will sail on through with unanimous consent. Check will be in the mail soon. Object to provisions and you're persona non grata, and your future on the Hill may be in question.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Check out the following link to Watchdog Indiana's website. The site has candidate ratings for the upcoming November general election and lets you know if a candidate is taxpayer friendly or part of the problem. We all need to become informed voters and make the right choices based on the individual candidates and not the party.



Building on the state's three straight years of balanced budgets, Governor Mitch Daniels today proposed two major steps to further strengthen Indiana's protection of taxpayers.

First, the governor called for final legislative passage of a constitutional amendment to make permanent the caps on property taxes contained in the landmark tax cut bill approved during the 2008 session of the Indiana General Assembly. Second, the governor proposed sending taxpayers a refund in the years when state revenues exceed those necessary for a balanced budget and rainy day reserves.

The governor's property tax package, HEA 1001, received overwhelming bipartisan support (119- 27). Among its provisions, it limits property taxes to 1 percent of the value of a home, 2 percent of agriculture land or rental property, and 3 percent of any other business beginning in 2010 (phased in starting next year). Daniels said achieving permanent property tax protections for homeowners and other taxpayers would be his top priority for the 2009 legislative session.

Homeowners all over the state are beginning to reap the benefits of the governor's property tax plan. So far, the average property tax reduction is about 38 percent compared to 2007 taxes.

A constitutional amendment must be approved by two separate sessions of the General Assembly before it can go to a popular vote. If legislators approve SJR1 again during the 2009 session, Indiana voters would have the opportunity to consider the caps in the November 2010 general election.

"We've taken the first of what must be three steps to make the caps permanent and constitutional. The legislature has voted once to submit this to a referendum of the people. A second vote under our law must occur, and then you the people get a chance to vote," said Daniels, during a luncheon speech before members of the Rotary Club of Indianapolis. "I'm very confident that if the people of Indiana get that chance, they are going to vote to lock in these caps and this unique-in-America protection. We have to make sure that that vote happens, and that it comes soon.

The second proposal, the Automatic Taxpayer Refund, would ensure that any tax revenues beyond those needed to maintain a balanced budget and adequate rainy day reserves be sent back to taxpayers in the form of a refund.

In years when state revenues are above an agreed level needed for fiscal sufficiency (for example, 10 percent of the next budget), the surplus amount would be returned to taxpayers on a per capita basis in the form of a credit on their next income tax filing. The state auditor would be responsible for certifying that the amount of total financial reserves, which consist of the General Fund, Rainy Day Fund, Medicaid reserve and School Rainy Day Fund are above the agreed level.

"The state would collect only what it needs to provide essential services, to protect itself against a downturn and to have an adequate reserve. Above that, the money stays with the taxpayer to be spent on family needs and to be reinvested in a growing economy," said Daniels.

The plan would require the approval of the General Assembly.

Audio of the governor's speech may be found at www.in.gov/gov/2445.htm.

From the Mitch for Governor Campaign Committee

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


He's closed the Hammond Health Department and homeless center and cut funding to the McCauley Clinic. Services that the economically disadvantaged in Hammond greatly need. Before he backed off and threw the "political hot potato" in the City Council's lap, Mayor McDermott wanted to cut the Hammond transit service.

Now on the front page of Tuesday's Times, there is an article about Mayor McDermott bringing a 130 foot Statue of Liberty to Wolf Lake. The statue will be donated, but the city will pay for its installation and upkeep. The mayor could not give an estimated price tag on what that will cost. Why not? Is he afraid there will be a taxpayer uproar over the cost? Shouldn't the people of Robertsdale have a say in whether they want this statue on Boy Scout island in Wolf Lake or not?

The idea of spending money on this statue when the good people of Hammond are losing their homes and being deprived of needed services is absolutely ludicrous. There are much better ways for the City of Hammond to spend money, taxpayer or not, than on a 130 foot statue. Shouldn't he be more concerned with cutting out bloat and waste from city government than spending money on willy nilly ideas? Not to mention the fact that we will be the laughingstock of Northwest Indiana.

And before any of our detractors can start blogging about our lack of patriotism, many of our Team Hammond members served in the military and with great pride. We don't need to look at a statue to be patriotic. We would rather the city's money be spent frugally and wisely.

If the mayor really has to have the statue, put it on the golf course next to his new clubhouse/banquet hall and leave Boy Scout island alone!


Mayor Rudy Clay of Gary was on the local network news yesterday asking the city union employees to take a 20% paycut to help out with Gary's massive budget cuts.

Will Clay himself be willing to take a 20% paycut? Will Clay be willing to give up his Hummer? Will Clay's son give up his job as photographer for the sanitary district? Will Clay be willing to cut out the "real" fat and eliminate unnecessary patronage positions?

If Mayor Clay wants to make Gary city government lean and efficient, he needs to actually make some sacrifices. Then and only then should city union employees consider a paycut.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Monday, August 4, 2008


By a vote of 6-3, the School Property Tax Control Board voted to reject the School City of Hammond's plan for a new Hammond high school.

The control board's nonbinding decision now goes to Cheryl Musgrave, the DLGF Commissioner for a final decision. Should Musgrave veto the project, voters would have the opportunity to approve the new high school by way of a referendum.

Four members of Team Hammond Taxpayers' Group made the trip down to Indianapolis to attend the control board hearing. Team Hammond would not attack the need nor the location or consolidation; their focus would be that the past performance of the SCH did not justify building a new school.

During Jim Premeske's presentation, he emphasized the degree to which the SCH adjusted their statements to support any position they might take: i.e. "...we need new schools because enrollment is increasing" or four years earlier "...with a declining enrollment we must...add schools." Example: justifying a new Maywood because it was too close to Wallace (four blocks), then building the new Maywood two blocks from Wallace. Jim also addressed Hammond's penchant for abandoning buildings prematurely (Orchard Drive), often bearing a demolition expense after half (or less) of its useful life. Jim then addressed the two $21 million schools built consecutively about one mile apart, while schools built to the same design were built for $11 million and $14 million elsewhere. Lake County's exclusion from the statewide property tax relief implementation schedule (and why), Hammond's declining population, and the negative impact of TIFs on property tax revenues were also covered by Premeske's presentation.

Jim Sheehan's presentation followed next. He explained the deception inherent in the SCH's financial package; that as much as $400 million was unaccounted for in their required legal advertisement and how the school board was misleading citizens into thinking their property taxes would not increase. Sheehan explained how the SCH had established a sham "multi-building school corporation" holding entity to avoid the limitations of Article 13 of the Indiana Constitution. The sham corporation bonds, builds, then leases buildings to SCH to avoid financial regulation by the state. SCH's debt limit is not more thn $52 million while their existing (pre-Hammond High/Gavit) debt is $362.7 million. During cross examination, it was discovered that to win approval the new debt had been backloaded: practically no principal would be paid in the early years of the debt, with a huge increase occurring during the last ten years of the bond.

The last Team Hammond presenter was George Janiec. He cited Hammond's unsatisfactory academic performance and the fact that existing statistics showed negligible improvement among students in Hammond's newer schools. He challenged the SCH's assertion that no additional construction was in Hammond's future by addressing the age and enrollment limitations of the Depression-era George Rogers Clark MS/HS, which will be nearly 100 years old when the largest volume of the proposed debt would be hitting the taxpayers. Much of SCH's justification hinged on a specific wheelchair bound student. George questioned why this would now be of immediate importance when the federal ADA mandated such compliance 16 years ago. George closed with an impassioned plea that the decision for additional debt belonged with the citizens; not with the five school board members and not with the out-of-town administrators, educators and consultants who would not be paying the bills.

Members of the property tax control board said although they sympathized with the need for a new high school, they objected not only to the $106.6 million cost of the construction project but also the estimated $60 to $70 million in interest costs over the life of the 20 year bonds.

Another sticking point with some of the board members was the fact that the bond payments would be backloaded. SCH would pay nothing in 2008 and 2009 according to the proposed financing scheduling giving taxpayers the false security their property taxes would not increase.
However, in 2010 annual payments would jump to $5.3 million and in 2020, payments would balloon to $13.9 million.

While we may have won the battle, the war is far from over. The final decision now rests with Cheryl Musgrave, DLGF Commissioner. Write, call, email or fax Ms. Musgrave at the DLGF in Indianapolis and let her know you oppose this building project. She has six months in which to make her decision.


It's been a little over 2 weeks since the County Board of Elections exonerated one of Team Hammond's leaders, Jim Premeske, of vote fraud.

Premeske had been the target of a smear campaign by Dave Woerpel and Steve Fowler, both ardent supporters of Mayor McDermott. In addition to the vote fraud complaint, it was insinuated that Premeske had two homestead exemptions and was scamming taxpayers.

However by a vote of 4-1, the Election Board found Premeske innocent of the charge. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Alfonso Salinas Sr., father of Hammond City Councilman Alfonso Salinas Jr. His vote did not come as a surprise to Team Hammond members who believed the vote was politically motivated.

The original complaint stated Premeske should not be voting in Hammond because he lives in Schererville and does not reside at the Blaine Avenue address. Allegations were made that not a drop of water had been going into the house for several years and neighbors had said they seldom saw Jim at the home.

At the first hearing in June, Jim provided board members with eleven annotated exhibits which included documentation of Hammond water bills paid, affidavits of neighbors attesting to the fact that Jim did reside at the Blaine Avenue address, documentation of agendas the Lake County Council mailed to Jim at the Blaine Avenue address since late 2004, a memorandum from the Auditor's office dispelling dual homestead exemptions, personal data provided to Dave Woerpel by the Elections Office in violation of IC 3-7-26.4-8, documentation that Schererville is the home office for James Walter Premeske Enterprises, Inc., and Indiana codes and statutes pertinent to the allegations.

Those codes include:

Indiana Code 3-5-2-42.5 (Residence) Residence means the place: 1) where a person has the person's true, fixed and permanent home and principal establishment; and 2) to which the person has, whenever absent, the intention of returning.

Indiana Code 3-5-5-14 (Establishment of voting residence separate from spouse) A married person who does not live in a household with the person's spouse may establish a separate residence from the residence of the person's spouse.

At the July 15 hearing, Election Board Attorney Fred Work stated that the burden of proof was upon the accusers and having failed to provide proof of any election law violations, Work recommended that the Election Board dismiss the charges against Premeske.

Later during the proceedings, Premeske commented on being the victim of unfounded accusations, the damage to one's reputation, and the attack on his liberties. Quoting Tip O'Neill, Jim stated, "All politics is local and the place for me to begin correcting government abuse is in Hammond, Indiana, right in Precinct 3-13."

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Lake County Surveyor George Van Til announced at a news conference on Thursday he will cut his 2009 budget by 16 percent.

Van Til intends to pare $429,382 from his current $2.1 million budget and eliminate two full-time and three part-time positions from his staff. He also called for other Lake County officials and unelected department heads to cut their budgets by at least 12 percent. Van Til also wants the Lake County Council to make further cuts as recommended by the Good Government Initiative.

After it was announced the Surveyor's office would be hiring five new employees despite a hiring freeze and the county facing a revenue shortfall of $15 million, Van Til claimed he did not know about the freeze. However, Lake County Council President Christine Cid wasn't buying it and chastised Van Til saying the budget cuts and hiring freeze were not something new.

Doesn't Van Til read the Times or Post-Tribune?

If Mr. Van Til was really interested in saving taxpayers money, he would suggest consolidating the Surveyor's office with the County Highway and Public Works Departments. He could also contract out work on an "as needed" basis which would result in substantial savings. Finally, he could eliminate such perks as take-home cars which have been used for personal use and filling up private vehicles at the county gas pumps.

Mr. Van Til's change of heart about cutting the Surveyor's budget was just to take the heat off him and make it look like he's one of the good guys in county government.

Yeah, and bears don't poop in the woods!

Blunt Proof of the Feasibility to Permanently Abolish Property Tax

Media Contacts:
Melyssa Donaghy 317-938-8913
Max Katz 765-409-6669

Hoosiers For Fair Taxation, Senator Delph, Representative Noe, Representative Elrod and many other legislators along with Stop Indiana, attorney John Price, Eric Miller's Advance America, and the Statewide Taxpayer Alliance know that property tax abolishment, without substantial increases in sales tax and income tax, is realistic and possible. The economist Dr. Bill Styring's 2/2/2 Plan demonstrates that the state of Indiana can completely replace property tax without changing the state's current spending habits.

Dr. Styring's plan does not account for positive changes in Indiana's economy that will undoubtedly follow the elimination of property tax such as heavy real estate investment and increased consumer spending due to increased statewide disposable income. The real estate investment in Indiana alone would cause such an economic boom that it could likely end our abandoned property and foreclosure crisis. Property tax elimination would also likely cause a surge in Indiana's population as more people locate to Indiana to take advantage of real estate purchase opportunities without the burden of property tax. With the population surge would come more sales and income taxes.

The General Assembly does not have to adopt a specific plan until the year 2011. In the meantime, we recommend that the General Assembly approves the 27steps outlined in the report prepared by the Sheperd Kernan commission. While the Governor's commission cannot forecast the savings to the state once the plan is implemented, there is no doubt that the savings would be substantial--perhaps equivalent to the the entire property tax burden currently placed on Indiana's homeowners because our legislators have not had the political will to liberate Indiana's governing structure and her taxpayers from the 19th century.

Our citizen networks will work to replace all legislators who do not support property tax repeal in the November 2008 election.

The 2/2/2 Plan, to replace property taxes in Indiana based upon the latest revenue forecast (07/08 fiscal, estimate):

1) Current IN sales tax (state level rate of 6%): $5.601 billion2% increase would yield an additional $1.867 billion

2) Current corporate profits tax: ~$2 billion

2% increase would yield an additional $.286 billion ($286M)

3) A 2% statewide average of the COIT would yield $2.705 billion to cover local civil units of gov.

By adding these three together ($1.867 billion + $.286 billion + $2.705 billion), a total of $4.858 billion is realized; enough revenue to replace property taxes.

Indiana has a 70-plus year history of attempts to lower property taxes by raising other, non-property taxes. In every case these have failed miserably. The new taxes, or higher rates on old taxes, remain in place. And, in short order, property taxes rise back to their old levels, poised to roar even higher.

--1933. General Assembly imposes two new taxes: an individual gross income tax and a corporate gross income tax. The morgue of the Indianapolis Star indicates that the political leadership at the time said this was for property tax relief (1933 was the pits of the Great Depression, and people were losing their homes. Home prices declined by over 40% in the 1929-1933 period). Property tax relief was nonexistent. The state used the money to bail out the state's own finances.

--1963. General Assembly imposes a new sales tax at a rate of 2% and changes the 1933 individual gross income tax (from 1933) to an adjusted gross income tax (the one we have now) at a rate of 2%. Again, the ostensible reason was for property tax relief and again little PTR was forthcoming.

--1967. Those 1963 tax changes were raising more money than projected. The GA decides to give back 8% of sales and income tax revenue to local government for property tax relief. Local units spent the money. No PTR.

--1973. Gov. Otis Bowen launches the most determined PTR offensive yet. The sales tax goes to 4% and a new corporate supplemental net income (profits) tax is imposed. Strict property tax levy controls are imposed. It works... for a time. By 1980, property taxes adjusted for inflation are some 30% lower than in 1973. When Bowen leaves office the levy controls are relaxed. By the end of the decade, property taxes (adjusted for inflation) are back to 1973 levels. The doubling of the sales tax rate from 2% to 4% remains in place, along with the new corporate SNIT.

--2002. More fiddling with the sales tax in the hope of property tax relief. The results of this are obvious, or we wouldn't be debating the current property tax mess. All of this suggests that unless the property tax is totally ripped up by constitutional amendment, the assessment and collection mechanism dismantled, it will grow back. The PTR-inspired hikes in other taxes remain. That is our history. It is a terrible deal for taxpayers.

2. A vote in the 2008 legislative session for a constitutional amendment to repeal property taxes does not amend the constitution. It merely starts the amendment process. Amendments must be passed by two consecutively elected General Assemblies, then submitted to a referendum. Thus any amendment passed by the '08 Assembly must be passed by either the 2009 or 2010 legislatures, then submitted to the voters at the 2010 general election. The General Assembly does not need to decide on a "replacement revenue" package until the 2011 session.

3. What might such a "replacement revenue" package look like? The particular answer will come from the 2011 General Assembly and cannot be determined now (if for no other reason than forecasting state level taxes and property taxes out that far would be a most unreliable exercise. No one need be locked into any particular plan just yet. However, as an illustration that a replacement plan is feasible and less scary than many fear (we don't need to be talking about a 12% or 13% sales tax ... in fact, we should not be), consider just this one possibility.

Local sales taxes are generally very bad policy, for a whole host of reasons too numerous to mention in this short sketch. Sales and corporate taxes are best levied at the state level. It happens that roughly a 2% increase in the sales tax and a 2% increase in the corporate profits tax roughly take care of school propertytaxes. The loss of local control by the state assuming school property taxes is minimal. About the onlylocal control left is on building projects.

For local civil units, a statewide average increase in the individual adjusted gross income tax of about 2% suffices to replace local civil government property taxes, higher than 2% in some units, less than 2% in others.

Thus, a "2-2-2" plan~2% sales and 2% corporate profits at the state level for schools and a 2% average on personal income taxes for civil units—is about what would be needed. This is merely a ballpark projection to 2011.

There may be better plans, it's really a policy question for the General Assembly: do you want to make the trade of something like this in exchange for no-property-taxes-forever-on-anything? Everyone understands "zero."

4. Are there "practical problems? Of course. The two identified are how to make the civil government transition from a property tax base to an income tax base, and how to handle debt backed by property taxes. Without elaborating, the former can be handled using locator software (Map quest-type programs). The debt problem might be handled by treating the current state paid PTRC's as in lieu of property taxes (which they are) and paying PT-backed debt service from each unit's own PTRC.

Conclusion: Total elimination of the property tax via constitutional amendment is the only way to give property tax relief that will stick. The other tax action necessary to achieve this goal—in 2011-are large but not so scary as "a 13% sales tax." They are feasible. The question is for the General Assembly. Are we going to once again go down that 70-odd year path of failed PTR policies or are we going to rip the property tax up by the roots?

Posted by Hoosiers For Fair Taxation on Friday, January 4, 2008.