(STATEHOUSE) Feb. 12, 2008 - State Rep. Mike Murphy (R-Indianapolis) met with two groups of southside residents last evening to listen to their concerns and offer updates on the status of particular legislation. Rep. Murphy's first stop was the Perry Township School Board meeting. Afterward, he hosted a town hall meeting in Southport, along with state Sen. Brent Waltz (R-Greenwood).
The school board meeting was well-attended. The town hall attracted fewer people - 12 people total plus Southport Mayor Robin Thoman - but those who attended the meeting were well-informed and ready with pointed questions.
At both venues, Rep. Murphy gave a brief summary of House Bill 1001, the bill containing the House version of the governor's property tax plan. After his presentation, people asked questions, most focusing on the referendum process and the proposed caps on property taxes, as well as some possible changes to local government.
The referenda originally included in HB 1001 would have allowed citizens to vote on all major school building projects, but the scope was changed to include only non-academic building projects, such as pools and stadiums.
"The referenda will be much more efficient and bearable for schools than the current petition-and-remonstrance process that takes place," said Rep. Murphy. "What's more, safeguards will be in place to be sure our children receive the resources they need. I would be happy to see the existing referendum limitations lifted to include all major school building projects, because citizens have a right to vote on how their money is spent.
"People will never vote to hamstring their own schools; they won't deny their children the resources they need, so there's no need to worry about our schools turning in to dilapidated buildings with unsafe conditions," Rep. Murphy added. "The people of this community would never let that happen. We need to give them the vote they deserve."
The proposed caps were a worry to some on the board, who wondered about their effects on businesses and funding shortages to the schools.
Currently, most businesses pay about 3.5 percent of their assessed value in property taxes. Under Gov. Mitch Daniels' proposed caps, they would be capped at 3 percent.
"While the business community may dislike having a higher cap than homeowners, who will have a proposed cap of 1 percent, the fact is the cap will lower their current property tax bills," Rep. Murphy noted. "We would lower caps on businesses only at the expense of homeowners, who are not equipped to pay more and more in property taxes.
The average growth in personal income is increasing by 3 percent each year, while growth in local government spending is increasing by 8 percent. This is an unsustainable equation.
"On the other hand, businesses are revenue-generating properties. We don't want to burden them unnecessarily, but given the tax breaks we have provided in recent years, 3 percent is certainly reasonable."
To many who attended the town hall meeting in Southport, local government reform was a significant area of interest and concern. Several questioned the need and benefit for massive consolidation and elimination of township government.
"The way they've gone about government consolidation in the past is entirely backwards," said Rep. Murphy. "As Sen. Lugar said, we need to ask ourselves two questions: First, what services do we want to provide? Second, what is the best way to deliver those services?
"We need to provide better education and professional development for our assessors, and we need to find a solution that won't punish local communities that have been frugal and efficient in providing necessary services," Rep. Murphy added. "What we need to remember is that economic development is the real answer in most cases around the state. That's what brings younger people to communities and increases our tax base."
Although the meeting officially ended at 8:30 p.m., Rep. Murphy and Sen. Waltz stayed to talk with constituents who had more questions.
"Constituent feedback and interest are what motivates us most," Rep. Murphy said. "Most of our bills are inspired by people in our districts who contact us about their concerns. That's why I like attending these meetings. They give me a good idea of how well I'm representing my district, and they keep me on track as I consider proposed legislation."
Rep. Murphy encourages constituents to contact him through e-mail at email@example.com, by calling the Statehouse toll-free at 1-800-382-9841 or by writing to 200 W. Washington St, Indianapolis, IN 46204.