Indiana House gives big OK to tax caps--Some Democrats will have to defend vote by Eric Bradner C&P
By Eric BradnerTuesday, January 12, 2010INDIANAPOLIS — When it comes to constitutional property tax caps, all eyes are now on the November elections.School corporations and local governments will try to convince voters that making the caps permanent would box Hoosiers into having to choose between paying higher taxes elsewhere or putting up with shoddy service.A handful of House Democrats from Southwestern Indiana who voted against the caps will defend their votes as prudent, even if not politically expedient.And their Republican opponents will attempt to hang the decision around their necks, criticizing Democrats for what they will argue was an anti-taxpayer vote.That much was clear when the political gamesmanship began just minutes after the Democratic-led Indiana House passed the constitutional caps — 1 percent of the assessed value for homes, 2 percent for farms and rental property and 3 percent for businesses — on a 75-23 vote Monday afternoon.The caps are estimated to save Hoosiers, and cost local government units, about $450 million this year.Since the caps' passage is all but certain in the Republican-led Senate, the House vote clears the way for voters to make the final decision through a statewide referendum in November.Deluge of GOP criticismSeconds after Monday's vote, the state GOP unleashed a deluge of statements from Republican candidates running in districts represented by Democrats."Hoosiers in Southwest Indiana deserve leaders who will listen to and trust their opinion," said Ron Bacon, who is running for the District 75 seat held by Rep. Dennis Avery, D-Evansville.Wendy McNamara, who is taking on District 76 Rep. Trent Van Haaften, D-Mount Vernon, called her opponent's vote "disturbing.""What concerns me the most is that this action indicates that he is not interested hearing taxpayers' opinions on the property tax cap legislation; otherwise, he would have allowed the issue to be put before a referendum," she said.Lawmaker sees frustrationVan Haaften predicted homeowners eventually will grow frustrated with the caps, since they'll put the squeeze on public services such as firefighting."Homeowners are going to ask for those, because there's going to come a time when they're going to need those," he said.Pointing to a 1 percent sales tax increase already in place, as well as local-option income taxes already in place in some Indiana communities, he called the caps a "trap.""Not only are people not benefiting from the caps, but they're paying more sales tax, and they're going to end up paying more income tax," he said.Tax cap unfair to farmers?Van Haaften represents a rural district, and said he doesn't think the 2 percent cap on farms is fair, considering homeowners' taxes are capped at a lower percentage. He said that's what he and other Democrats who oppose the caps must communicate to their constituents."What's important is that you sit down with folks and walk through what is happening and what's going to happen. And when you do that, people are disappointed in the property tax caps," he said.Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville, voted for the caps but said it was a tough decision and it came down to letting Hoosiers have the final say.Still, standing beside Van Haaften, she said: "A lot of what Trent is talking about needs to be communicated. ... I certainly have a lot of problems with the 1-2-3 caps."Avery cites uneven caps as unfairAvery, meanwhile, remained stringent in his opposition to amendment he said is "not fair" because it exempts two northern Indiana counties and because it sets different caps for different classes of property taxpayers."It is a very popular concept, that they can say, it's as easy as 1-2-3. But there are going to be real problems," Avery said, predicting pain especially for farmers and small-business men."There will be an increase in the income tax," he said. "We'll continue to see fire stations closing. We'll see layoffs of policemen and other public safety officers."Will Avery's vote against the caps be a positive or a negative come election time, when Republicans try take control of the House, which Democrats currently lead 52-48?"I have no way of knowing," he said. "It's too early."