[r72] A Clere view of the Statehouse 1-12-10 (1/12/2010)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Start Date: 1/12/2010 All Day
End Date: 1/12/2010

Tune in now to keep up

As the Indiana legislature meets for its annual session - which started a week ago today - the weather outside is as bleak as the economy. Spring will come, and, in time, the economy will improve. Until then, protection from the elements is the order of the day.

It is now all but certain that Hoosier property owners will soon gain another layer of insulation from high property taxes. After a year of delay, the House of Representatives took immediate action on constitutional property tax caps. A final vote - scheduled for yesterday - was expected to be a formality after the caps survived several attacks last week.

Caps will not keep property taxes from rising. They will, however, keep them in check as a percentage of a property's assessed value. Taxes on most owner-occupied homes will be limited to 1 percent of the property's assessed value. Taxes on rental property and farmland will be capped at 2 percent, and taxes on other business property will be limited to 3 percent.

That leaves assessment as the next major property tax issue. Tax caps will provide the greatest protection when coupled with limits on increases in assessment. Now that the tax cap debate is finally behind us, we can turn our attention to assessment.

In addition to the tax caps, we acted on several other pieces of legislation last week, and committees started meeting right away. Compared to last year - my first - this year got off to a brisk start. That's a good thing, as the session must end by March 14. Regardless of the political motivations behind the House majority's newfound sense of urgency, I'm thankful we accomplished something during our first week in session, and I'm hoping the rest of the session will be just as productive for Hoosier taxpayers and families.

A lot will be happening in the coming weeks. As always, if you have questions or concerns about anything, please contact me at 1-800-382-9841 or h72@in.gov. If you want to keep up with what's happening, visit the Indiana General Assembly's Web site: www.in.gov/legislative.

There you will find calendars, legislation, committee schedules and a wealth of other information. You can watch live video of the House and Senate and some committee meetings and view archived video.

Under the "What's New" section of the Web site, you will see several reports about the effects of the property tax caps. The reports were compiled by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. In 2008, the tax caps were enacted into law and phased in. The resolution that was expected to be adopted yesterday is the next-to-last step in making the caps constitutional.

Right now, they are law, which can be changed on a whim. Once they're in the state constitution, they could still be changed, but it would take more time and effort than if they were only in law. The last step in amending the constitution will come in November, when the caps will be on the ballot for Hoosier voters to make the final decision.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about the effects of the caps on local government revenue, and some politicians have taken to blaming the caps every time they're short on revenue. The reports provide an objective look at the caps' true effect. T

he reality is far different from the rhetoric. The caps cost all units of local government in Floyd County $11,489 last year. Some units didn't lose a penny. Rounded to the nearest tenth, that's not even one-tenth of 1 percent of the units' combined budgets. In Clark County, the loss amounted to about two-tenths of combined local government budgets. This year, the loss is projected to be about eight-tenths of 1 percent in Floyd County and 1.2 percent in Clark County.

The sky isn't falling, at least around here.

Counties with higher property taxes are losing more. For example, while Floyd County lost $11,489 to the caps last year, Lake County - near Chicago - lost $71 million.

There's a lot to keep track of besides the tax caps.

Today is the deadline for filing bills. As of Friday, more than 500 bills and resolutions had been introduced. Detailed information about every bill - including the complete text, any amendments and current status - is on the Web site. If you do not have Web access and would like to receive information about any bill or topic, just contact my office.

Two weekly television programs on Indianapolis public television also provide good information and analysis about what's happening in the legislature. They can be viewed at www.wfyi.org.

According to the Web site, "Indiana Week in Review" offers news and "no-holds-barred debate and discussion. A look at issues facing Indiana from differing viewpoints makes for an entertaining, lively and informative half-hour."

"Indiana Lawmakers" is the other show. The Web site says it provides "a weekly in-depth examination of the issues and agendas before the state legislature."

I enjoy both programs.

Something else I enjoy is writing this column. Today's column is No. 52; I've been writing it every week for a year now. Thanks to the Tribune for giving me the opportunity to communicate with you, and thank you for reading it.

Try to stay warm.