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.
Feeling carried: Filmmaker captures late uncle’s walk through illness and into ‘whatever is next’
Paul Fleschner sensed a remarkable strength as he filmed his beloved uncle one final time.
EDITORIAL: Dysfunctional relationship with schools chief doesn’t bode well for potential Pence presidency
A window to the future may be unfolding in Indiana.
Readers’ Forum: July 13, 2014
• Telling the truth about smoking
• Larger energy bills on the way, thanks to EPA
• Embrace the compassion, not self-righteousness
• Wondering about country’s leaders
• New amendments have hurt country
FLASHPOINT: EPA proposal will have little impact on environment, but could hurt coal industry
I recently signed on as an original co-sponsor to a bipartisan bill led by one of my Democrat colleagues from West Virginia that would stop the newly released Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on existing coal-generated power plants.
RONN MOTT: Troubled history in that place called Iraq
People are dying, again, in Iraq. And, again, people other than Iraqis will ultimately make the decision about what happens to this ancient land.
Editorial: The Bennett ‘settlement’
It takes a special kind of arrogance to flout ethics laws in the manner which former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has violated them. Even when he finally admitted his transgressions, he claimed he could have avoided the matter altogether had he just changed the department’s ethics policy before engaging in the troublesome conduct.
In essence, this was the old “mistakes were made” acknowledgment of wrongdoing. And the real mistake to which Bennett admits was apparently not changing the rules before he violated them. This is a truly Nixonian moment.
- Readers’ Forum: July 11, 2014
RONN MOTT: That Old Man River
I was surprised to learn the people in Cairo are now taking water taxis to avoid the traffic, the confusion and the dangers that are appearing on Cairo, Egypt’s, streets. I mean, I was surprised the people in Cairo, these native Egyptians, were surprised they could take a water taxi and get to where they wanted to go using the Nile River as a highway. So, for the Egyptians living in Cairo, everything old is brand new again.
EDITORIAL: A green idea worth pursuing
It sounds like a blue-ribbon idea.
READERS' FORUM: July 10, 2014
• Herb Faire a great success
• Appreciation for a ‘lovely angel’
• Thanks for stirring fireworks show
EDITORIAL: Be safe, be responsible
The Independence Day weekend brought a brief respite in construction work on area roadways. In particular, it provided needed relief to the congested segment of Interstate 70 in Clay County that is undergoing resurfacing this summer.
Readers’ Forum: July 9, 2014
• Don’t eliminate our six-day mail
• Zamperini death stirs memories
RONN MOTT: Black Dog
We had some excitement around our house the other day and it was not the good kind.
There was a small dog, black in color with a spiked collar on his neck, and he was the spitting image of a small Doberman. I don’t know if they have miniature Dobermans but this dog could have been a mixed breed that came out looking like a Doberman although smaller.
Readers’ Forum: July 8, 2014
• T-S ignores common decency
• Lighten up on Donald Sterling
• Time to reject Dems in Congress
• Fueling the EPA
MS. TAKES: Great music is made during all generations
Number Two son tells us that his 20-year-old son has been listening to “Big Band” music with apparent enjoyment. As if that wasn’t enough of a surprise, I was talking with a young girl, barely out of her teens and she told us that she really wasn’t into rap. She said, “It isn’t really music, it’s just talk.”
Readers’ Forum: July 7, 2014
• The moral issue is major issue
Editorial: City financial health demands an open, honest discussion
Obscured by the recent rift over use of departmental funds in the city of Terre Haute’s budget are serious issues related to our city government’s overall financial health. The answers may be mired in the complexity of municipal finance, but coming to grips with the situation is important to the city’s future.
Readers’ Forum: July 6, 2014
• Coats ignoring climate science
• Do those mustache posters exist?
• Utility rate freeze took determination
• What perversion is next in line?
• Opinions vary, but voters will decide
• This preaching must stop — now
• Golf fundraiser a huge success
Flashpoint: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal
Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.
Flashpoint: The Supreme Court decision and ‘closely held’ corporations
The much awaited Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby came down this week. The court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the 1993 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) does cover “closely held” corporations, even if those corporations are for profit.
RONN MOTT: Learning more about Jefferson
During this Fourth of July weekend, I’ll be reading John Meacham’s biography of Thomas Jefferson.
EDITORIAL: Celebrate your independence
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
As eloquent and declaratory as that statement is, implementing its principles has been a decades-long pursuit for these United States of America. Our nation, it seems, is the quintessential work in progress, even though what this country has created in terms of a stable, collective society is, let’s face it, pretty darn good.
- Readers’ Forum: July 4, 2014
RONN MOTT: The Men Who Made the Country
The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate our independence from Great Britain. It reminds me of something David Ben-Gurion would say, at a much later date, about British rule: “If you have to have a master, the British are about as good at it as anybody.” Of course, we really don’t need a master.
GREG ZOELLER: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage lawsuit appeal
Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo.
Readers’ Forum: July 3, 2014
• Over the top on immigration
FLASHPOINT: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices
On Wednesday, the State of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
MIKE PENCE: HIP 2.0 gives consumers better choices
Today, the state of Indiana submitted its proposal for the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If approved, the Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0 would replace traditional Medicaid for low-income, able-bodied Hoosier adults. Unlike traditional Medicaid, which is government-driven, HIP 2.0 is consumer-driven.
Editorial: Texting law serves safety
July 1 each year marks the day in Indiana when new laws take effect. But rather than focus on new laws today, let’s observe the anniversary of a law that went on the books three years ago this month — the law that barred texting while driving.
- Readers’ Forum: July 2, 2014
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