Thursday, February 6, 2014

Journal-Gazette Argues "Replace Don't Erase" Sensible Response to Revenue Erosion

From the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette:

The people charged with running Indiana cities, counties, public schools and more are no strangers to Statehouse politics. They know that if the governor and lawmakers are intent on handing out another tax break, it will happen – regardless of the effect on local government revenue.

Now, with Gov. Mike Pence and legislative leaders targeting the business personal property tax – a $1 billion source of revenue – local government and school officials are taking a new, pragmatic approach to addressing the legislation: “Replace, Don’t Erase.”

The new coalition representing mayors, city government, police chiefs, school boards, libraries and more launched their campaign last week, just as legislation to reduce their dwindling revenue advanced in both chambers of the General Assembly.

“We are 100 percent unified on this issue,” said Matt Greller, executive director and CEO of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns during a news conference to introduce the coalition. “I think we all see this as the most significant piece of revenue loss coming down the road that local governments have faced in the history of Indiana.”

Not only is it the most significant piece of revenue, it also follows years of revenue cuts and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from the state’s property tax caps. The losses have already endangered the ability to provide basic services, with cities forced to lay off employees, schools closed and classroom sizes increased, library hours reduced and parks suffering from neglect.

“Funding for public safety has been diminishing since the tax caps went in,” Syracuse Police Chief Tony Ciriello said at the news conference. “We’ve all faced major budget cuts – not able to hire additional personnel; sometimes not able to even replace personnel lost through attrition. We have fire trucks that are lasting a lot longer than they should and police cars that probably shouldn’t even be on the road because – without the funding – we can’t replace them.”

The governor, who first challenged the General Assembly to eliminate the business personal property tax, has since called for it to be phased out. He hasn’t, however, offered an idea for making up the difference.