Political Notebook

  • Mom's ad surprises candidate
    Congressional candidate Justin Kuhnle said Wednesday afternoon that except for an image texted by a friend, he had little knowledge of a newspaper advertisement supporting his candidacy.
  • Bennett back at the Statehouse
    Gov. Mike Pence had an intriguing visitor to his Statehouse office Tuesday - former Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett.
  • Right to Life PAC endorses 6 area GOP candidates
    The Indiana Right to Life Political Action Committee has endorsed six area Republicans seeking Statehouse office.
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County chafes at city oversight

The Allen County Council had all kinds of things to say about the Fort Wayne City Council’s examination of its options for plugging a $5 million hole in its budget, especially its proposal to raise income taxes.

None of them was nice.

Local income taxes are set by the Allen County Income Tax Council, but that body’s votes are based on population, so the city controls the tax council.

“We have been working so hard on economic development,” said Roy Buskirk, R-at large. “It’s a slap in the face that they are truly considering that.”

County Council President Darren Vogt said not only was the city reckless, but undemocratic.

“We took steps in 2011-12 and asked all department heads to cut their budgets. The city did not do that. They continue to spend at the same levels,” Vogt said. “City Council has all that power (to raise income taxes), while 70,000 people have no say in the matter. That is taxation without representation.”

For the record, “taxation without representation” means not getting a vote. It doesn’t mean not having a majority vote. And last we checked, the 250,000 Fort Wayne residents were also residents of Allen County.

The city responded Tuesday evening by pointing out that the city has charged less than the maximum property taxes the state allowed since 1991, to the point where in 2008, the city collected $35 million less in property taxes than it could have. Over the years, it has collected $303 million less than the maximum, Controller Pat Roller said.

Allen County, meanwhile, she pointed out, has taken the maximum amount the state allowed every single year, as has every other taxing body she knows of.

Officials also pointed out the city does not collect property taxes for debt service or have a cumulative capital development levy, while the county does.

“The people who have sat around this (council) table for the last 20 years have voluntarily decided to reduce that levy by $303 million,” Roller said. “We have been thinking about reducing the levy for 20 years longer than anyone else has.”

Dueling videos

The clash between House Republicans and Gov. Mike Pence continued Thursday when the GOP caucus released a video meant to defray criticism over the governor’s proposed tax cut.

Pence wants a 10 percent reduction in the Indiana income tax while legislative Republicans have balked – choosing to put money into education and roads instead while accelerating the state inheritance tax elimination.

The Indiana chapter of Americans for Prosperity ran ads for more than a week criticizing the House budget as spending too much and not focusing on taxpayers.

Pence later asked the group to take a different tone, but the damage was done. The rhetoric has increased in recent days, and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma also wrote a letter defending the caucus stance to all the state’s county chairmen.

Now Bosma and his caucus created a video mimicking the AFP ad and put it on YouTube.

It uses similar music and green headlines to tout Republican accomplishments, such as improving Indiana’s jobs environment; proposing a balanced budget; investing in education; and previous tax-cutting prowess.

“House Republicans have a proven track record,” according to the video.

Next up, the Senate Republicans take a swing at the budget. Up to now, leaders in that chamber also have been lukewarm about the Pence proposal.

How free are we?

Indiana ranks 16th nationally in fiscal, regulatory and personal freedom, according to a study released Thursday by a conservative think tank at George Mason University.

The Virginia school’s Mercatus Center compared states using 2011 data on a variety of policies, including taxes, government spending, property rights, occupational licensing requirements, marriage laws and regulations on alcohol, tobacco, seat-belt use and motorcycle helmets.

The Mercatus Center’s board of directors includes Charles Koch, chairman and CEO of Koch Industries Inc., and Richard Fink, an executive vice president of the company. The Koch family is a leading financier of conservative and libertarian organizations, causes and political candidates.

Indiana ranked first in the study in regulatory freedom, seventh in personal freedom and 38th in fiscal freedom.

Among subsections, the Hoosier State tied for first, with seven other states, for campaign finance freedom and was third in gambling freedom. The Hoosier State’s lowest subsection rankings were 39th for tax burden and 34th for government debt burden and arrests for “victimless crimes,” which include drug use, weapons possession and prostitution.

Study authors William Ruger and Jason Sorens wrote: “Indiana is one of the rare outposts of freedom among the Great Lakes states. Nevertheless, it could do more to improve, especially in the fiscal policy dimension.”

Their recommendations for Indiana’s legislature included reducing income taxes, cutting spending on public welfare, libraries, housing, community development and education, and repealing laws restricting alcohol sales.

North Dakota finished first in the study, and New York was last.

This is the Mercatus Center’s fourth such analysis. Indiana ranked eighth for 2001, 25th for 2007 and 11th for 2009.

Transparent fall

Indiana receives a C+ when it comes to government spending transparency, according to a new report ranking states on online access to spending data.

“Following the Money 2013” is the fourth annual report of its kind by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

“State governments across the country have become more transparent about where public money goes, providing citizens with the information they need to hold elected officials and businesses that receive public funds accountable,” said Alec Sprague, federal field organizer with INPIRG. “But Indiana still has a long way to go.”

Officials from Indiana and 47 other states provided the researchers with feedback on their initial evaluation of state transparency websites. The leading states with the most comprehensive transparency websites are Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Oklahoma.

Indiana’s website contains checkbook-level information on contracts, non-contract spending and grants, but lacks such information on economic development tax credits. It also does not provide any details on spending by off-budget agencies and lacks adequate information to hold companies accountable for economic development subsidies.

The state’s grade fell from an A- last year to this year’s C+.

The fall reflected rising grading standards, which the state of Indiana failed to keep up with. For instance, this year’s higher standards call for searchable checkbook-level information on economic development tax credits, which Indiana’s website has yet to provide. In order for states to maintain high scores, they must continually improve transparency.

“Let’s be clear,” Sprague said, “Indiana’s falling score does not mean spending has become less transparent. It means most states are improving faster.”

Dan Stockman and Vivian Sade of The Journal Gazette contributed to this column.

To reach Political Notebook by email, contact Brian Francisco at bfrancisco@jg.net or Niki Kelly at nkelly@jg.net. An expanded Political Notebook can also be found as a daily blog at www.journalgazette.net/politicalnotebook.

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