When Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard looks down Market Street toward the Indiana Statehouse, he worries about legislators’ ability to help or hurt the city’s budget.
The House and Senate, at Gov. Mike Pence’s suggestion, have passed differing versions of bills that would reduce a tax on business equipment — a type of property tax that makes up a good chunk of operating revenue for most local governments, including Indianapolis.
Like many mayors, Ballard is worried, he says, because neither plan so far has included a way to replace the lost income for local governments.
“I was for the property tax caps ... but this is a big hit to the city — to the area, and all of our agencies,” he said. “That’s the issue that’s really out there: Everybody says, ‘We don’t want to hurt the cities, we don’t want to hurt the courts, and we don’t want to hurt the schools,’ but nobody’s come up with a replacement yet.”
The House version would give counties the option to eliminate the tax on new equipment or machinery. The Senate version would eliminate the tax for 70 percent of businesses. Neither would phase out the tax entirely, as Pence has requested.
At the same time, Ballard said during an interview with the Indianapolis Star this week that he’s heartened by the Indy Chamber’s recent push for a “commuter tax.”
Residents of one county who work in another would be charged an additional income tax, beyond the one they currently pay to their home county. Officials estimate 200,000 workers commute into Marion County for work.
That idea isn’t likely to gain traction this year, and Ballard hasn’t yet endorsed it. In the past, legislators have been skeptical.
But as the city and county face recurring troubles in balancing their $1 billion budget, Ballard says a commuter tax is worth a look.
“You can’t be a suburb of nothing, right?” he said, leaning on a saying of former Mayor Bill Hudnut. “Something has to be looked at to keep the whole region going. A lot of people drive to Westfield and Carmel to go to work, too.”