Tuesday, December 11, 2007
The middle class taxpayer, without reference to race, religion or any other demographic except economic status, has borne the burden of our ill-conceived tax system for far too long. It is the middle class taxpayers who are most endangered of loosing their homes due to the capricious assessment system. It is the middle class taxpayer that is being squeezed for every penny the government can get out of them. It is the middle class who are keeping the system afloat.
In 1965 President Johnson proclaimed the Great Society and declared War on Poverty. Has the cycle of poverty been extinguished over the last two generations since then?
Various Presidents have supported the so-called War on Drugs. Are illicit drugs any less available?
We are currently involved in a War on Terror. Will we ever be able to completely eliminate the threat of one group or another that objects so strongly to a political or religious viewpoint that they will unleash a series of guerrilla attacks to further there own cause?
Perhaps we should get our government to openly declare a War on the Middle Class so that it too might meet with the success rate of these other "Wars", for the undeclared war is killing us.
So, who will speak for the Middle Class?
We must learn to speak for ourselves. We must speak loudly and with conviction. We must let our government know that we are not afraid of them any longer and that those whom we elect should fear us.
Who will speak for the Middle Class?
I will, and I urge each of you to do so too.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Friday, November 9, 2007
The signing took place in a marshy piece of land near London, on the Thames, called Runnymede.
Now comes the irony.
In April of 2004, my wife and I were house hunting and looking for our first real home. We had looked at many houses, but none seemed appropriate. An acquaintance of my wife told her about an available house in the Cottage Home Neighborhood on the city's Near East Side. She went to see it and realized that it was what we'd been looking for. Thus, we came to reside at 1215 Polk St, a rehabilitated Victorian cottage built in 1893.
The gentlemen we purchased the house from were expatriate Britons. Having an appreciation for British history, they saw the connection between the street number and the year of the signing of the Magna Carta. Thus, they came to christen the house "Runnymede Cottage"
My wife and I now stand in danger of losing our "Runnymede" due to a system of outrageous taxation.
It is up to the the new Barons of Indiana, the people, to rise up with a unified voice and demand from our legislator's that this broken system be scrapped. The system of assessing and taxing property is damaged beyond repair. Repeal all property taxation.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Yesterday, the people spoke and took back control of the city of Indianapolis from those who would use their positions of public trust to further their own enrichment and aggrandisement.
Now comes the true test of our resolve, confronting the state legislature. We must begin again the long and arduous task of ensuring that these elected public servants realize that it is the people that they serve and it is to the people they must answer. If we are to win permanent release from the burden of unbearable property taxes, then we must be deserving of that victory. We must fight for our cause. We must gather together and petition the legislature. We must organize and demonstrate our resolve.
We can begin this task on Nov. 20th when the legislature meets to organize for the upcoming legislative session. These are the points I suggest we focus upon:
- The consolidation of township government with county government, i.e. the elimination of the township structures.
- A constitutional amendment repealing, once and for all, the taxing of property in Indiana.
- The replacement of property taxes with a 2% increase in sales tax, a 2% increase in personal income tax, and a 2% increase in the corporate income tax. (Dr. Styring's plan)
- Mandatory referendums for capital spending projects.
- Moving school board elections to the fall general election.
I welcome other viewpoints and suggestions for this list, but let us not be lax, time moves quickly and Nov. 20th will arrive without our adequate preparation. Therefore, I call upon all good Hoosiers, who in this time of need recognize that danger that the current taxation system poses to our state, to gather on the 20th of November, 2007 at the Statehouse to welcome our elected officials back to Indianapolis with the reminder that they can ignore the will of the electorate only at the peril of their political careers.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Take for example my immediate area. There have been virtually no foreclosures or sheriff's sales (that could well change next April). Thus, there would be no change in assessed values. In areas that have experienced these events, assessed valuation would decrease.
Now here's the rub. The beast still must be fed. The total tax levy will not change. Therefore, to make up for the loss in property values, the tax rate must increase. Home owner's living in areas where everyone is making their mortgage payments and doing that which is right will end up with an even larger bill than before to compensate. Fair? No.
The only solution to the inequities that the system introduces is the elimination of the system and its replacement with a combination of sales and income taxes.
"It's not a negative ad," said Michael O'Connor, Peterson's campaign manager. "We don't attack character. There's nothing in the ad that isn't a direct quote from the Star endorsement."
Since the Peterson Campaign believes so strongly in the gospel according to Ryerson, one must assume that they are quite happy with the Star's endorsement of a Republican controlled City-County Council.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
One such candidate is Libertarian Tim Maguire. You can read his position on the issues of importance to the citizen taxpayers of Marion Co at his website: http://www.timothyjmaguire.com
The fact that the Star did not even list the names of the other candidates running for the At-Large seats, as they did for the district candidates, is an affront to the voters of Marion Co. It's as if the Star was saying, "These are the candidates we endorse and you don't even need to consider any others." The unfortunate thing is that there are enough uninformed voters who rely on these type of endorsements to make them relevant.
I will not call on a total boycott of the Star's endorsed candidates, that would serve no useful purpose as some of the candidates are indeed worthy of election. However, I would urge everyone to think for themselves and not follow the herd. Vote your conscience and regardless of the outcome you'll be able to say, "I did what I thought was right."
Saturday, October 27, 2007
The winter of 1776 was severe. Washington's ragged Continental Army was encamped at Valley Forge PA. The colonies had been at war with Britain since April of 1774. Apart from a few bright moments in New England, the war was going badly. Washington had been defeated in every battle he fought. The Continental Congress had been forced to abandon Philadelphia. The Army was freezing and starving. Desertions were high and men whose enlistments were expiring were reluctant to re-enlist. Into this time of crisis came the words of Thomas Paine.
Paine's words ring as true today as they did over 200 years ago. Today there was another rally on the circle. The turnout was but a fraction of the crowd that was there last summer for Black Sunday. Many people thought that the tax crisis was over last summer when Governor Daniels "froze" the property taxes at the 2006 rates pending a re-assessment. This week the Governor revealed his property tax plan. Again many hailed this as the answer to our problems.
Sadly, the crisis remains. The Governor's tax plan does nothing to alleviate the immediate problem. The Marion Co. township assessors have almost without exception said the reassessment will make no difference. Thus, when the reconciliation bills arrive in April those people whose taxes increased beyond their means to pay will still face the loss of their homes. To compound the problem, the first installment of the 2008 bill will be due in May. Of course the Governor's plan relies upon the legislature to enact it, not a foregone conclusion.
I am worried that too many of us resemble those "sunshine patriots" to which Paine referred. Will we show up at the polls this November? Or, will we assume that someone else will make the correct decision for us? We must shoulder our responsibilities just as the soldiers of the Continental Army shouldered their muskets.
Friday, October 26, 2007
The loss of the revenues generated by the business inventory tax has been cited as one of the contributing factors in the need to raise property tax rates. How much did we actually lose? I called the Marion Co. Treasurer's Office on Oct. 25 2007, and spoke to someone who identified herself as Sue who told me that she had been instructed to tell inquirers that in 2006 $48 million had been collected. Attempts by myself and others to confirm this figure on Oct. 26, 2007 were unsuccessful. However, the following exert from the Metropolitan Development Committee meeting of Aug. 13th suggests that this may indeed be a reasonable estimate. $48 million represents about 3.5% of the total levy for 2006. (see following post for amount of 2006 levy).
METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE
DATE: August 13, 2007
CALLED TO ORDER: 5:30 p.m.
ADJOURNED: 7:05 p.m.
Attending Members Absent Members
Dane Mahern, Chairman
Robert Clifford, City Controller made opening remarks and gave an overview of the proposed 2008 budget. Some key points are as follows:
Goals for 2008 budget are to reduce property taxes, prioritize spending for public safety in crime prevention and initiatives, fund pre-1977 police and fire pensions, minimize cash flow problems caused by re-assessment, etc.
Challenges in the budget are last year’s shortfalls, spending down fund balances in 2007, and requests exceeding revenues (i.e. Information Service Agency (ISA) request for a $12 million increase), state mandates, etc.
Property tax levy reductions in the amount of $50.4 million: County Cumulative Fund reduced by $600,000, Child Services Debt budget is relatively flat in 2008 and levy can be decreased, Tax Increment Finances (TIFs) are healthy and do not need to collect all the money, seven million dollar reduction in the Redevelopment Debt, etc.
Metropolitan Development Committee
August 13, 2007
Property tax levy is frozen due to the increase in County Option Income Tax (COIT) being passed.
The City property tax levy has actually declined over the past eight years and the Council has already made improvements with property tax dollars with the consolidation of Warren and Washington Township Fire Departments.
The City’s portion of the property tax rate is less than 25% and will continue to decrease.
The County represents nine percent of the total levy in the county, and that nine percent keeps people in jail, sends out warrants, and runs the court and the criminal justice system.
2008 challenges: $20 million of the $35 million in COIT notes have to be paid back in 2008, labor contracts, fuel, rent for city and county increase.
There is no borrowing currently required to fund the 2008 budget.
The timing of property tax collection for 2007 and 2008 will have an effect on the cash flow for the city and county budgets (approximately $52 million).
Councillor Mansfield asked for clarification on why there is a cash flow crisis. Mr. Clifford said the Governor has ordered that 2007 property taxes be paid at the 2006 level and in 2006 there was $132 million less in taxes levied The percentage of the total levies has decreased two percent in 2007; therefore, two percent of the $132 million will be lost revenue. He said the second problem is businesses do not pay inventory tax, which is five or six percent of the county levy that is lost.
Mmoja Ajabu, Minister of Social Concerns, said he is concerned with the way the city determines the budget. He said they decide how much money they would like to spend, then come to the tax payers for the money. Minister Ajabu said the city should look at the revenue coming-in and then decide how money is spent. Bart Brown, Council’s Chief Financial Officer, said the Controller looks at the fixed revenue available before looking at the budget request. Mr. Clifford said the rules for property tax assessment are done by the state, and the city can only do what the state provides them by law.
So 3.5 -6 % loss of revenue justifies massive increases in the property tax rates? I don't think so.
By now everyone in Marion Co should have received their Fall property tax bill. Our esteemed County Treasurer, Mike Rodman, included a nice little chart of how these funds were being spent. For those of you who do not have it at hand here's a copy to refresh your memory.
According to the pie chart the % change over the 2006 levy was 100%. To me, this would mean that the levy total doubled from 2006 to 2007.
Well, it didn't, as the following table demonstrates. (click on chart to see larger image)
As you can see the actual increase in the levy is approximately 9.7 % So how did the Treasurer's office arrive at a result of 100% for the change over the 2006 levies?
They used the total Difference to calculate the change. For example let's look at the State Welfare line. The Treasurer's office calculated it as $45,732,251 divided by the total difference,
$132,382,162 multiplied by 100% to arrive at a value of 34.546% (based on the numbers included in the mailing this would be 33.567%). However, if we divide the individual difference amount by the welfare 2007 levy (which is the only way this should have been done) we get a value of 75.09% for the increase in the welfare levy. Please note if you were to try to add individual values given in the Actual % Change column together as they did with the "% Change Over 2006 Levies", you would get a result that is greater than 100%. You just can't do this, it's not mathematically sound.
Another thing to note is that if we were to ponder what the percentage the additional $45,732,251 levied for welfare is of the total 2007 levy we would find that it is 3.06 %. Not a huge increase considering the size of the levy, and yet the cost of state welfare being pushed back onto Marion Co. was cited as one reason for the need to drastically raise the tax rate.
One has to wonder whether this was a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the true numbers or just a matter of someone being mathematically challenged. Either way it does not engender a large degree of confidence in the Treasurer's office.
The Bowes Plan for Better Assessment Practices in Marion County
The Marion County Assessor is responsible for overseeing the assessment work of the county’s nine township assessors and collecting their data for transmission to the State Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF). In addition, the County Assessor processes inheritance tax returns and determines whether taxpayers are entitled to the exemptions they seek. Finally, any time a taxpayer wishes to appeal a decision made by the Township Assessor, the appeal goes through the County Assessor’s Office and its Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.
The Marion County Assessor is also one of three County Commissioners, along with the Marion County Auditor and the Marion County Treasurer. The County Commissioners supervise the property owned by the county and make appointments to nine boards.
The main goal of the County Assessor should be to ensure the accuracy of property tax assessments. Our property taxes are imposed by the City-County Council, the school board, and several other taxing authorities. Those taxing authorities determine how much is needed to pay for essential government services. Each property owner pays a fair share based on the value of the property he or she owns. The County Assessor’s job is to make certain the tax burden is shared equally and fairly.
Anyone here think Mr. Bowes has succeeded at his job as outlined in the last sentence?
Thursday, August 9, 2007
Exhibit 1: 1215 Polk St - Assessed Value $258,000
Exhibit 2: 1210 Polk St - Assessed Value $52,400
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Just to make my position clear, I will not endorse the Republican Party either. They are as equally responsible for the failure of the last General Assembly to adequately address the need for property tax reform as are the Democrats. Additionally, I cannot countenance their stands on many social issues such as abortion, the separation of church and state and freedom of speech to name but a few. From this day forward I will throw my undying support to the Libertarian Party and work diligently for the election of their candidates as a viable and preferable alternative to the stalemate produced by maintaining the current status quo.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up, because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.
Variation on a poem attributed to Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)
I had been asleep for quite a long time. I went to work. I came home. I pursued my various hobbies and interests. I didn’t pay close attention to what was happening locally. I watched the evening network news and quietly railed against the loss of American lives in Iraq. I read the comics and light news sections of my morning newspaper. I paid very little attention to what was transpiring at the Statehouse.
To me it seemed just more the same age old partisanship bickering. The Democrats and Republicans arguing over trivial issues such as how the opening prayer should or should not be recited and if it should be recited at all. Certainly, there were matters of importance to be discussed. The attempt to amend the Indiana constitution to define marriage and by doing so possibly condemn a segment of the citizenry to second-class (or worse) status needed to be stopped, and it was. But buried within these sideshow distractions was a much grimmer and far more critical issue, one that has come to threaten the ability of the middle-class of Indianapolis to remain in this city.
The Indiana General Assembly, in response to lobbying by various interest groups representing Indiana’s businesses and industries, had repealed the business inventory tax in 2002, to be fully implemented in 2006. Accompanying this was the conversion of the assessment system to one based on the "fair market" value. Thus, in 2003 several neighborhoods in Indianapolis saw sudden increases in their property tax bills. At that time I was living in a condo in Pike township and was not affected by the increases as my assessment did not change. In fact, the closet populist in me was secretly gleeful to see the "haves" made to pay more. Over the course of the next four years I married and purchased a home in the Cottage Home Neighborhood in Center township. One of the main selling points, for my wife and I, were the relatively low property tax rates.
In the spring of 2007 the General Assembly failed to come to terms with the full implications of these events. The best that they could offer the property owners of Indiana was HB 1478 which allowed local county governments the option of raising the County Option Income Tax (COIT) by up to 1% to provide property tax relief. Also included was a "rebate" to ease the pain that taxpayers may feel. A "circuit breaker" was put in place to prevent the property tax rate from surpassing 2% of assessed value in 2008. Therefore, the individual counties were on their own to come up with a plan to meet their revenue needs.
In Marion county, the solution arrived at was to simply increase the property tax rate and reassess residential property to reach the revenue goal. By now everyone should be painfully familiar with the result. Individual homeowners have seen their tax liabilities increase by 30%, 50%, 100% or more, with the highest increases that I am aware of occurring in Cottage Home, where just five homeowners saw increases greater than 500% with the record coming in at 945%.
My increase was 850%.
I received my bill on July 5th, 2007, and over the next few days my emotions ran the gamut from disbelief to despair to anger. I scoured the newspapers for information. I went on-line looking for solutions. I began to learn.
On July 9th I attended my first anti-tax meeting. The Fair Tax advocates were holding a rally and information meeting at the Talbot Street Nightclub. My wife and I attended. After the organizers had spoken the public was given the opportunity to speak. I stood and began with the poem written at the beginning of this piece. The point I wanted to make that evening was that I was paying for the years of my own apathy and that the price to be paid was high.
I began to work on informing my neighbors in Cottage Home about my plight, the plight of the few residents that had been so cruelly reassessed, and how we, working together and speaking with one united voice, could change the system. I posted notices on our neighborhood list-server. On "Black Sunday" I was proud that several of my neighbors joined with us to protest on Monument Circle.
Our voices were heard, and Governor Daniels froze the 2007 tax levy at the 2006 rate, pending reassessment. We are safe for now, but I fear that the governor’s action is nothing more than a stay of execution. Expert opinion is that the new reassessment will not drastically change the results obtained from the first one. The danger is that we will return to a state of apathy now that the immediate threat is over. We cannot allow this to happen. I pledge to do everything in my power to prevent this. I will write letters, lots of letters, letters to the editor, letters to my city-county councilors, letters to my state legislators, letters to my friends and neighbors. I will work the political system. I will attend the rallies. I will speak up and speak out. I will not go quietly into the night.
I opened with a quote and will close with the following.
"We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately."
- Benjamin Franklin 1776
Thursday, July 26, 2007
There have been many comparisons of the current protests to past revolutions, particularly the storming of the Bastille at the beginning of the French revolution. This is not a battle that will be won by storming one building or another. This is a battle that can only be won by storming the polls in November. We cannot allow ourselves to slip into the comfortable apathy that pervades our electoral process. We must continue to attend the rallies. We must continue to turnout in large numbers. We each must do that which we can. We must become part of the process. This is an election year, seek out the candidates, listen to their speeches and, most importantly, question their stances on the issues.
Will you remember in November?
If not, what will you say next May?
Saturday, July 21, 2007
I started this blog to record and vent my thoughts about the state of affairs in this city, county, state and country. I have become politically energized and I want to make my voice heard, even if no one ever reads these pages. I will, in the course of the next few posts, give voice to my political philosophy.
Stay tuned it's going to be a bumpy ride.