[r79] In Lehman's Terms 1/12/10 (1/12/2010)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

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


Property Tax Caps and Ethics Reform

 I remember going to the circus as a kid and waiting breathlessly for the moment when they shot the guy out of the cannon.  This week, I felt like that guy in the cannon.

  Last Tuesday we began our new session-and it started with a bang.  Last year we seemed to spend the first couple of weeks doing a whole lot of nothing, but this year on the first day we began acting on bills which were eligible to be amended.  Yesterday, we voted a couple of bills out of the House. 

  These are not obscure, technical bills.  I want to focus this letter on the two bills which have generated the most interest -tax caps and ethics reform.

'The Caps' 

This is the proverbial elephant in the room every time you talk about tax reform. 

 As a quick refresher, in 2008 the Indiana General Assembly implemented property tax caps in statute.  Under the caps, the most you would pay in property taxes is 1% of the assessed value of your home, 2% of the assessed value of rental property and farmland or 3% of the value of commercial property.  The tax caps were passed and are currently the law. 

 The push now is to incorporate this system into the Indiana constitution.  This action would prevent the courts and future legislatures from chipping away or eliminating the protections the caps afford. 

 On the positive side, this sets a rate that will stay stable when it comes to calculating the dollars that you will pay annually for your property taxes.  It also forces local government units to be creative in how they deliver services to the taxpaying public.  It calls for all taxing units to work together in combining services that are possibly duplicated by different units.  Simply put, it is asking local government to live with less and spend within their means. 

 On the negative side, if the caps are made "permanent" we will also need to address how we continue to assess property.  If we cap the taxes but allow the assessing process to change and shift, we create a potential race to the caps, forcing taxpayers whose taxes are not yet at 1, 2 or 3 percent to absorb more of the burden.  The good news is that we can address the assessment issue through statute.  I also have some concerns regarding handcuffing future legislators. Years from now, they may find a different way to address this situation, but they will be forced to go through the 3 year constitutional amendment process. 

 What I am hearing overwhelmingly from you, the taxpayers, is that you are tired of paying more and more in property taxes with little or no constraints.  You want stability and predictability.  In talking with local officials, I understand their frustration with revenue reductions and the potential need to cut some services.  I also feel that we need to give local governments the ability to implement local taxes to help pay for local projects and economic development.  If a county or city wants to tax its citizens, let them stand or fall on that decision and explain what services that increased revenue would go toward.

 This was not an easy decision, but I voted in support of the tax caps. I will work hard to protect all taxpayers while continuing to work toward a fair assessment process and push for local control of taxing authority.

'Ethics Reform' 

 Some may think that "governmental ethics" is an oxymoron.  Here's the deal: House Bill 1001 is a lobbyist reform bill. 

 The intent of this bill is to create more transparency and shine a light on who has access to elected officials.  Let's start with a little history lesson.  Way back in the mid 1800's, the Willard hotel in Washington DC was the place to be.  Congressmen, senators, and military generals-as well as presidents- frequented the hotel.  If you wanted to push for some political favor or ask their consideration for your issue, you hung around the hotel lobby and waited for the powers that be to pass through on their way in and out.  These people became known as lobbyists. 

 Fast forward to today. Just like the people waiting in the Willard Hotel lobby, lobbyists still stand in the third floor hallway of the Statehouse, watching the House proceedings through the chamber window and waiting to bend an ear.   Many people view lobbyists as the slick, velvet suited, snake oil salesmen.  The reality is that they are very knowledgeable and professional.  The other reality is that many of them represent everyday folks like me and you.  For example, we have lobbyists that represent firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses, and small business owners, just to name a few. 

 If you have an issue that you are passionate about, you have the privilege and the ability to petition your representative or senator with your sole voice.  What if 1,000 people have that same passion?  Is it better for 1,000 voices to petition, or do you use a lobbyist to represent your view as one unified voice?  Lobbyists provide valuable information on issues that I do not have expertise in.  When there is an issue I want more information on, I can rely on lobbyists on both sides of the issue to give me valuable insight so that I can make an informed decision.

 The issue at hand today is, where is the line between a) discussing an issue over lunch or dinner and b) spending three days in the tropics on a fact finding mission.  I am 100 percent in favor of full disclosure of who gave me what and when, but I am not in favor of limiting our access to lobbyists by eliminating the ability to sit down over a cup of coffee. 

 While I am not in favor of every proposal in the ethics bill as it was drafted, I think it is a step in the right direction and I supported it yesterday.  I think all elected officials have a fiduciary responsibility to act professionally and not be afraid to lay bare their political finances.

 Well, if you made it this far into the letter, I thank you.  For more information on these and any other legislative issues, please visit our website at www.in.gov/legislative .  The web site has been updated and has a bunch of new information, so go in and play around awhile.  As always, you can watch us in action by clicking on the blue "Watch Live" button on the upper left side of the page.

 Please contact me with any questions at h79@in.govor by calling 1-800-382-9841.

 Keeping things in Lehman's terms,

 State Rep. Matt Lehman