News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 11, 2014

First crackerbarrel of 2014 well attended

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The issue of eliminating business personal property tax dominated the discussion at Saturday’s public meeting with state legislators at the Vigo County Public Library in downtown Terre Haute.

In what’s known as a crackerbarrel, Rep. Bob Heaton (R-Terre Haute), Rep. Clyde Kersey (D-Terre Haute), Rep. Alan Morrison (R-Terre Haute), Sen. Timothy Skinner (D-IN 38th District), and Rep. Kreg Battles (D-Vincennes) engaged in conversation in a room full of local leaders and citizens about agenda for the 2014 legislative session.

In addition to the business personal property tax — which is a tax levied on business equipment — the same-sex marriage amendment and a Senate bill that may decriminalize fishing and wildlife laws were among the issues citizens raised. More than a dozen people formed a line waiting for their turn to speak during what Moderator Betty Martin said was the 30th edition of the crackerbarrel session.

Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett was the first one from the audience to speak.

Bennett voiced his concerns on the business personal property tax issue, particularly its financial impact to the city, which has dealt with reduced revenue due to changes in the tax structure over the years.

“After the property tax caps, we still are dealing with that. It’s 9 million dollars this year for the city of Terre Haute and a million dollars for the Sanitary District. If the business personal property tax gets eliminated, it’s another four and a half million dollars for the city and another million on the sanitary district. That’s nearly half of the money we took in in 2008. We’re already down about 40 million dollars,” Bennett said.

“... When you keep reducing revenue when the state created local government to be primarily paid for by property taxes, when we eliminate the property taxes, there has to be something to take its place,” he continued.

While he understands the importance of Indiana being economically competitive, Bennett urged the legislators to “keep an open mind” moving forward and to take a “step back” to examine the issue carefully.

Bennett’s comments were applauded by the audience.

City Council Member Norm Loudermilk also voiced his concerns.

“It’s just simply a bad idea,” Loudermilk said adding that many jobs will be lost in the city.

“I’m urging you to simply go back and say this is a bad idea. This is going to kill the city of Terre Haute,” Loudermilk said passionately.

Leaders of other local entities such as the Vigo County Public Library and Vigo County School Corporation also told legislators about significant cuts to their budgets — and therefore, services — if the business personal property tax gets eliminated.

Another hot topic was the House Joint Resolution 3 (formerly known as House Joint Resolution 6), which proposes and ammendment to the Indiana constitution that “only marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana,” and that “a legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.”

“What if the time, energy and money that is being spent on this were spent instead on improving the quality of marriage and family life given the high rate of divorce and domestic abuse?” said Sister Donna Butler.

“The greatest threat to marriage and family life in this state, in this country, in the world, is not same-sex marriage. The greatest threat is violence toward women,” Butler ended, which was acknowledged by the audience with applause.

Many people who spoke up were opposed to HJR3 because they believe it is uncessary and redundant.

Heaton and Morrison both said they believe that Hoosiers should decide on the matter and should be put to a vote.

Two attendees brought the legislators’ attention to a less popular bill.

Max Winchell and Don Burger both spoke in opposition of Senate Bill 52,which also affects Title 14 state laws on natural and cultural resources, Winchell said.

Based on his understanding, Winchell said, the bill will decriminalize fishing and wildlife laws in Indiana.

Anything that’s a misdemeanor will become an infraction the way the bill is currently written, Winchell, a sportsman and Indiana Conservation officer, said.

Natural resources, fish and wildlife, hold a lot of sporting and commercial value, he said, and many fellow sportsmen are “upset.”

“Senate Bill 52 and its effect on Title 14 is going to be catastrophic,” Burger said.

“It has taken years ... to build our wildlife population to what it is now.”

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or