TERRE HAUTE —
Consider every plausible consequence before acting.
That maxim fuels the current foreign policy debates in Washington, D.C., but it applies to decisions back home in Indiana, too.
In the past 10 days, the mayor of Terre Haute and a member of the city Sanitary Board of Commissioners described the deep impact of Indiana’s property tax-rate caps on the local government entities they manage. The Indiana Legislature adopted the caps in 2008, and they took effect two years later. The caps imposed limits on property tax rates — 1 percent of gross assessed value on homesteads, 2 percent on rentals and farm land, and 3 percent on businesses. It also aimed to limit local government spending, and reform property assessments.
A significant number in that historical recap is “2008.” That was the year the Indiana Legislature adopted the property tax caps, urged by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels. Two years later, a newly elected General Assembly — dominated by supporters of Daniels’ plan to etch the reforms into the state constitution — took the required step of passing the tax-cap resolution again. In November 2010, Hoosiers approved the addition of the tax caps to the constitution.
Meanwhile, another historic situation unfolded in 2008 — the Great Recession. As the downturn deepened in the next two years, the American economy shed 8 million jobs in the worst recession since the 1930s. With so many residents suddenly jobless or hit with pay cuts and unpaid furloughs, consumers stopped spending. Revenue sources for local government units began constricting, too.
The caps did standardize property taxes. And indeed, local government spending has been curbed.
Those changes did not occur in a vacuum or a best-case scenario, though. Instead, the recession compounded the restrictions imposed on communities. With more than half of municipalities’ budgets paying for public safety (in Terre Haute, it’s 72 percent of the general fund), little remains for street maintenance, sewer and infrastructure improvements, upgrades of parks and development of quality-of-life amenities needed to keep residents of Hoosier cities from moving out of state.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett told Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann, a fellow Republican, the property tax caps have cut the city’s revenue by $35 million since they took effect in 2010. That amount equals one-fourth of the city’s pre-tax-cap income.
“The concept of the caps was fine; I supported that,” Bennett told Ellspermann on her Aug. 30 visit to Terre Haute. “But what has happened, it has really put a stranglehold on communities. Some communities are doing OK because they have growth. In our case, our assessed value dropped 7.5 percent last year.”
Vigo County has seen the fourth largest revenue reduction among Indiana’s 92 counties, according to a study this summer by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research. “I don’t think anyone would’ve predicted 20- or 30-percent declines in local revenues,” Matthew Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, told the Tribune-Star on Thursday.
The Terre Haute Sanitary District is dipping into the city’s sewer fee revenue to cover its outstanding bond debt, while the district’s property tax revenue has decreased beyond expectations. “The tax caps are absolutely killing us,” said Chuck Ennis, a Sanitary Board member and the city engineer.
The property tax caps are permanent, thanks to their insertion into the constitution. Given that reality, municipalities need state legislators to restore some of their local flexibility. “We have to take the handcuffs off city and county government,” Greller said. His organization wants the 2014 General Assembly to allow a statewide local option tax on food and beverages, and to remove the hoops cities must jump through to adopt the new local option income tax for public safety.
Cities need resources to remain vital. Like it or not, more than half of college graduates — the key demographic Indiana towns are losing — choose where they will live before they land a job, Greller pointed out. Towns just scraping by to patch potholes and mow parks will have a hard time competing. “That’s where we’re headed, and that’s a very, very scary proposition,” Greller said.
That’s a long-run consequence legislators should consider and address next time.
Funding shortfalls put cities in dire straits
TERRE HAUTE —
Consider every plausible consequence before acting.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
In the competitive and highly entertaining world of collegiate athletics, Sunday is akin to a national holiday. At 6 p.m., the NCAA will announce the field and seedings of its 2014 Division I men’s basketball tournament.
RONN MOTT: One and done, 2014 style
Hoosiers, this time of the year, turn their minds and emotions to the grand old game of “hoops.”
EDITORIAL: Our children in poverty
An important gauge for measuring the long-term prospects of a community is the well-being of its children. For all the effort and progress Vigo County has made in rebuilding the economy and improving its quality of life, chronic problems with the welfare of its children still exist.
READERS' FORUM: March 14, 2014
• ISU officers should stay on campus
• Good reasons why guns are needed
• Salute to Jake
RONN MOTT: Ukraine 2
The situation in the Ukraine should let us know plainly, and openly, the old saying about a leopard never changing its spots is true. Vladimir Putin is a KGB officer, grew up a communist and, from all appearances, still believes like a communist.
EDITORIAL: Meth battle never ends
It’s been more than a decade since local police officials declared methamphetamine as “public enemy No. 1.”
READERS' FORUM: March 13, 2014
• Celebrating the Girl Scouts
• Challenging the politicians
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on a cool day (Part III)
• Resolving to praise ISU
• Right down our alley
- READERS' FORUM: March 12, 2014
RONN MOTT: SAWS
A few days ago we talked to John Anderson of the Greencastle Presbyterian Church. He’s the coordinator for a mission of the church that builds ramps and stairs for those who are physically handicapped in Putnam County.
EDITORIAL: Thinking warm thoughts (Part II of III)
• Renewing a local library commitment
LIZ CIANCONE: We’re not only ones ready for springtime
During the most recent of our numerous descents into polar temperatures, I was astounded to see a dozen or more robins up to their ankles in snow. They were fluffed out to about twice their normal size. I suppose that was an effort to provide a bit of feathered insulation against the cold.
READERS' FORUM: March 11, 2014
• Meat-free path to the fountain of youth
• Faulty point?
EDITORIAL: Warm thoughts on cool days (Part I of III)
• Something good’s brewing
• Y we can’t take it for granted
FLASHPOINT: Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering the other day, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
READERS' FORUM: March 10, 2014
• Our government’s heart and soul
• A plea for more give and take
MARK BENNETT: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
EDITORIAL: Ads on the sides of school buses? What have we come to?
Ads on the sides of school buses do not constitute a sign of the apocalypse. Western civilization will survive.
Flashpoint: President should stop Medicare Advantage cuts
Virtually all elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — share the goal of increasing access to affordable health insurance and helping families receive the best coverage to meet their specific needs.
Readers’ Forum: March 9, 2014
Mardi Gras great event for Swope
EPA regs will cause energy bills to soar
Please pray for Ukraine innocents
Sinful thinking on road to hell
Liberty — or licentiousness
People will not always agree
Botched chance at leadership
RONN MOTT: Radio now a long lost love
I fell in love with radio when I was 16, just a few short weeks before my 17th birthday. The man who did the deed and hired me was Adlai Ferguson.
EDITORIAL: Noteworthy in the news
Welcome to girls teams, fans
You can say that again
Reader Poll results
EDITORIAL: What do Sony cutbacks mean?
It is easy to understand why shivers run down local people’s spines whenever rumors hit the streets about Sony DADC’s plant on Terre Haute’s east side. With more than 1,400 people currently employed in Sony’s production and distribution facilities, the community has grown somewhat dependent on the economic stability Sony provides.
- Readers’ Forum: March 7, 2014
RONN MOTT: Knicks
The big noise in the NBA is whether Carmelo Anthony will stay with the New York Knicks or go elsewhere.
If my memory serves, and it doesn’t always, Carmelo left the Denver Nuggets, the team that drafted him, to play in the bright lights of the Big Apple. It was loudly proclaimed at the time that Carmelo wanted to play for a championship team. The Knicks’ ownership bought a bunch of players and spent a whole bunch of money to aid Carmelo in helping the Knicks to get to a championship.
EDITORIAL: More ill will against gays
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Readers’ Forum: March 6, 2014
Utilities do need tighter regulation
Great work by TV sports staff
Editorial: A good place for persistence
The topic of Gov. Mike Pence’s effectiveness as the state’s top governmental leader during this year’s General Assembly will be hashed and rehashed after the session closes down in the next couple of weeks. At best, the first-term governor will get mixed marks.
- Readers’ Forum: March 5, 2014
RONN MOTT: Abraham Lincoln and George Washington
I remember when by edict the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were lumped into a single celebration called “Presidents Day.” I thought it was stupid then, and I still do.
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