[r54] Rep. Saunders: Wait and see on Tax Caps (1/11/2010)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Start Date: 1/11/2010 All Day
End Date: 1/11/2010

Legislators began pouring into Indianapolis this week to prepare for the start of the second half of the 116th Indiana General Assembly. Since this is an even-numbered year, we will have a "short" session lasting only ten weeks scheduled to end March 14-but many of us hope we can get our work done early.

Even though session did not officially start until Tuesday, members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee began meeting in early December to get a jump start on some of the hot button issues.

One of those issues includes the much discussed 1, 2, 3 percent property tax caps.

As most of you remember, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation in 2008 capping homeowner's property taxes at one percent, rental and agricultural property at two percent and business property at three percent. The bill passed with an 82-17 vote in the House and 41-6 vote in the Senate.

You might also remember that I was one of the 17 members in the House that voted against the property tax caps. I stand behind that vote even today.

This session, the issue is again front and center. However, unlike 2008, we will vote whether or not to allow a referendum on whether the caps should be added to the state's constitution, making them permanent. With the caps in place for less than a year, I cannot in good faith support this measure. I feel it is only fair to wait on making the caps a permanent fixture in the constitution.

Changing the constitution ties our hands, as legislators, and the hands of any future lawmakers who may decide that the property tax limits are no longer needed.

You can say that the caps primary purpose is to allow taxpayers to keep more money in their own pockets and prevent overwhelming taxes. Unfortunately, I see the reality of the bill differently and as something that will only shift much of the tax-paying burden.

Like most of you, I am a homeowner and like you, I do not want to see my property taxes raised-but at what cost? When property taxes are capped, it means less money to local units of government. Less money to local government means less money to county services. These are services that we have come to rely on, such as schools, police and fire services, snow removal, trash pick-up or road repair. What services are we willing to forgo in order to cap our property taxes? Are we also willing to pay user fees for these services?

For example, some of you in Henry County may remember last year when you were billed $12 for a sewage waste fee. The fee was something that usually came out of your county property taxes. However, legislation was passed in 2006 to exempt the sewage waste fee from the county property taxes, passing the burden off to you.

We have also started to see the effects of decreased property tax revenue in communities across the state. Some schools in Indianapolis have talked about doing away with school transportation, so now parents are driving their children to school each day. Some parents in our community would be okay with this idea, some would not. Where do you stand?

This issue has been an ongoing debate, and this session will be no exception. I would prefer to focus my attention on creating jobs and rebuilding our economy rather than an issue that is politically expedient for some.

Indiana has successfully gained and retained more than 4,000 jobs by remaining competitive and focusing our efforts on attracting companies interested in consolidating their operations. However, we must continue to support policies that put Indiana in the best position to attract high-paying jobs to come out on top through these tough economic times.

Hearing your thoughts and concerns are critical to me as the General Assembly begins the 2010 legislative session. As your state representative, I am dedicated to making sure your ideas are heard and your interests are brought to the table. I encourage you to contact me with any questions or concerns by e-mail at h54@in.gov, by phone at 1-800-382-9841 or by writing me at the Statehouse, 200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis, IN 46204.