Friday, January 2, 2009


Wow, you can find out all sorts of interesting things by going to Hammond city council meetings.

Like how the mayor's gaming money really gets spent (maybe Governor Daniels, the State Board of Accounts and the State Gaming Commission would like to know too).

Did you know that the City of Hammond pays Bose Public Affairs Group about $5,000 per month, and part of their job is to wine and dine state legislators and government officials to persuade them to see things Hammond's (or McDermott's) way?
Especially persuading Cheryl Musgrave, the former commissioner of the DLGF, to approve the new Hammond high school project. Too bad she resigned and Rushenberg took her place.

And that Bose bills the City of Hammond for such things as composing emails, conference calls, reading newspaper clippings for articles of interest, attending fundraisers and Democratic golf outings. (We sure would like to get paid to read the newspaper, talk on the phone or send emails!)

Not to mention all the fun extracurricular activities such as Andrew Miller from Bose billing the city for 10 hours for traveling to Chicago on April 17, 2008 to take Mayor McDermott to lunch and a White Sox game. Funny thing is: the White Sox were in Baltimore that day playing the Orioles (the Sox lost 5-6).

Or Paul Mannweiler* (see old lawmakers don't die, they just become lobbyists) from Bose billing the city for 14 hours for traveling to Chicago on April 17, 2008 to take Mayor McDermott to lunch, a Cubs game, and dinner (the Cubs were at home but lost to the Reds 2-9).

Did these guys think taxpayers were too stupid to look at Cubs and Sox schedules for 2008?

Or how about Andrew Miller from Bose taking State Rep. Mara Candelaria Reardon to a Cubs game on April 2 and State Rep. Dan Stevenson to a White Sox game on April 28? Geez, this Andrew Miller must really love baseball!

And even though this lobbying firm is paid out of the mayor's gaming fund, again this money is not the mayor's personal money to spend on himself (i.e. his salt-water aquarium). It is taxpayers' money and should be spent wisely and frugally for the benefit of ALL Hammond citizens and not just a certain select few.

When citizens are suffering because they have lost their jobs and homes, we don't believe they will be sympathetic to the city paying a consulting group to take elected officials to ballgames or attend golf outings.

*Paul Mannweiler is a principal for Bose Public Affairs Group. Before joining the firm, he served for 23 years in the House of Representatives. He was also elected Republican Speaker of the House on 3 separate occasions.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


This came from the Taxpayers League of Minnesota website. Just substitute Indiana for Minnesota, Governor Daniels for Governor Pawlenty and Lost Marsh Golf Course for Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort. Note the similarities.


At the same time that many of Minnesota’s mayors and special interests are looking for more taxpayer money to buy goodies via Obama’s stimulus package, Governor Pawlenty is trying to fix a little thing called a $5.2 billion budget shortfall!

Pawlenty has hinted at privatizing some of the state’s assets in order to balance the budget. A huge benefit of privatizing anything is that businesses, unlike governments, have to make a profit, and so they tend to find unique ways to streamline and make things run more efficiently (i.e. The UPS Store vs. the Post Office right before Christmas).

Among his ideas are the airport and the state lottery, which could bring in $2.5 billion and $500 million respectively for the state.

And there’s also talk of things which should never be in government hands in the first place: Giants Ridge Golf & Ski Resort and Ironworld. What’s ridiculous about these things becoming privatized is that it’s obvious why they don’t turn a profit. If they could turn a profit, a private business would have built them in the first place. Now let’s try telling that to our mayors who are asking for more government funded projects at the same time that these things may be privatized.

We agree with the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. It is not the business of government to be in business. There are businesses best left to the private sector such as golf courses and banquet halls.



When Tony Bennett lobbies state legislators on behalf of Indiana public school students, it won’t be with hands outstretched. “I am not a person who thinks we need more money infused in the system,” said Bennett, who takes office Jan. 12 as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Indiana invested $776 million extra in K-12 education over the past four years “with no appreciable change” in test scores, he noted. So a tight economy may be a blessing in disguise because it will force folks to be creative about getting dollars into the classroom.

At a time when many states have had to cut education budgets, Indiana certainly can’t be accused of inadequate funding. K-12 spending consumes 32 percent of the state budget — $8.6 billion in this biennium. That’s five percent more than the previous biennium and more per capita than the majority of states. In 2005-06, the latest year for which national statistics are available, Indiana ranked 18th in per-pupil spending at just over $11,000.

A more telling statistic is this: Indiana ranked 27th in the percentage of funding (60.1 percent) that goes into instruction instead of things like administration, support services and transportation. Twenty-six states spent more of their education dollars in the classroom.

“It comes down to how we spend the money,” Bennett said. And he has several ideas about how to drive more dollars into instruction. These include:

• Deregulation. Bennett would like to modify rules such as “seat time” for students or certification provisions for teachers that limit academic options or cost money. He cites the example of a school that recently lost vocational funds when it received a waiver so an English instructor could teach a vocational program.
• Streamline the Department of Education. “We intend to spend less money in Indianapolis if at all possible so we can send more to local school corporations to spend inside the classroom.”
• Find ways to “de-silo” spending. As it is now, operating budgets are kept separate from capital, technology, food services and transportation budgets. If a school system saves money in one area, it should be able to divert savings to the classroom. House Bill 1006, passed in 2006, took steps in this direction but has yet to achieve its potential.

Another strategy is school consolidation, although the extent to which it will shift money into instruction is disputed. The Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform recommended combining school districts with fewer than 2,000 students to achieve economies of scale. The governor is proposing that districts with enrollment under 1,000 merge central office operations with other districts.

The idea, Bennett says, is to streamline administration and pool purchasing power and not to close schools. In fact, the proposal would impose a five-year moratorium on high-school closings.

It’s not consolidation itself but the sharing of services that offers real savings. A study by Deloitte Research and the Reason Foundation concluded that school districts could save millions by sharing everything from buses to information technology to gymnasiums.

That same study, however, cited research by a management expert, Dr. William Ouchi, whose ideas have been applied to Indiana schools by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, that indicates centralized budgeting is not a good idea. “Schools perform better on fiscal and academic outcomes when there is a) local control of school budgets by principals and b) open enrollment, which allows per pupil funding to follow the child," says Ouchi.

The latter idea, known as Weighted Student Funding, is being piloted around the country and gaining acceptance. In its purest form, students would get to choose any public school in their region and per pupil funding would go with them. The allotment would be higher for students with special needs (such as high poverty or English as a Second Language) and school buildings would have flexibility to spend as they deem fit. Because parents would get to choose their child’s school, a competitive environment would force principals to spend wisely, thus more money for instruction.

Bennett is philosophically behind the idea. “I do believe money should follow students.” He has yet to endorse anything specific.

What’s encouraging is that he understands the next wave of education reform: Spending more effectively. This means shifting dollars from overhead to instruction and giving consumers more purchasing power.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard's School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation.

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

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.