Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Break with the Past

Until a few days ago I was proud to have been a life-long Democrat. I supported our candidates. I contributed to election campaign coffers (not much but what I could). I voted. I was proud of my party, the party of Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and, yes, Clinton. One of my most cherished memories was having the opportunity to meet RFK during the Indiana primary of 1968. (I was 10 at the time) As a moderate I was never really comfortable with the manner in which my party of choice, the party of my parents and grandparents, was overly influenced by its more extreme liberal elements, but I stood beside it. Then came last Monday’s City-County Council meeting, I was ashamed of the behavior of the elected representatives of my party. Now I see someone affiliated with the state party organization ridiculing the tax paying citizens of Marion Co. for exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights of assembly and speech to obtain a redress of grievances against a haphazard and capricious application of property tax assessments. I was there last Saturday and I do not live in Meridian-Kessler. I live in a neighborhood on the Near Eastside which is trying through rehabilitation of older homes to bring revitalization to a blighted and crime-ridden area. My property taxes increased 850% mostly due to reassessment (TRENDING!) Before you jump to the conclusion that this is only fair since I was getting by for years paying less than my share, I would like to point out that I have only lived there since 2004 and have paid taxes on that parcel only for the years 2004 and 2005 (due to Indiana taxes being collected a year in arrears). I would also like to point out many of my neighbors, whose homes are comparable to my own in terms of renovation; size and condition were not reassessed and only saw very modest increases in property tax. The Center Township assessor’s office did not do their jobs correctly; else all of us would have been reassessed. Again this is an office under the control of an elected Democrat.

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

From Apathy to Activism

First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t a Communist.
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

Letter to the Indianapolis Star

It is not over. In light of the property tax freeze and reassessment ordered by Gov. Daniels, many residents in Marion Co. feel that they can breathe a little easier. This, unfortunately, is not true. We cannot afford (literally) to become complacent. The reassessment promises nothing other than the opportunity for a repetition of the comedy of errors that have led to the recent protests. The reassessment will be conducted using the same broken system that the last assessment used. We must continue to make our voices heard! The recent action by the City-County Council has proved that. The will of the people was ignored. Those whom we elect to represent us must come to understand that they are answerable to the citizens of this county. We must send a message this fall that will be heard in the Statehouse next spring. Ignore the will of the electorate at your own peril.

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

Blank page blues

Here I go, my first post. It's hard to know where to begin.

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.