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A legacy of missed opportunities

Given the nature of politicians, grand claims of accomplishments and overblown rhetoric about “historic” efforts are to be expected at the close of any legislative session.

But I must say that some of the things we are hearing from the Republicans about the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly are staggering indeed.

The largest tax cuts in Indiana history!

More than $1 billion back to the people of Indiana!

A budget of opportunity!

Really?

I gather that we are supposed to take such bombast without any kind of further examination. The idea is that we should just sit back and watch those tax cuts roll into our pockets.

Except for one small thing...

If there is a living definition of a phantom tax cut, it is what was passed in the 2013 session. Something was approved, but I would challenge the idea that these cuts offer relief where it is needed the most: middle-class families across Indiana.

Let us examine some of these cuts:

Hoosiers will see their state income tax rate cut from 3.4 percent to 3.3 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2015. Not now, not next year, but the year after that.

Then they will have to wait another two years – Jan. 1, 2017, to be exact – before seeing it cut from 3.3 percent to 3.23 percent.

What will that cut mean for the average Hoosier, who makes about $50,000 a year?

In two years, it will mean about a buck a week. Two years after that, another buck a week in savings.

And that, for all the talk about these cuts, is what most Hoosiers are going to see from this legislative windfall.

Most of us will see nothing from the elimination of the inheritance tax, unless we have relatives die. Most of us don’t own corporations and financial institutions, so we won’t benefit from reductions in taxes affecting those areas.

If we are to be honest with you folks, we might as well also admit that the process of cutting some of these taxes – the inheritance tax, for example – began a few years back.

In 2012, we began the process of phasing out the inheritance tax over a nine-year period. That we decided to speed it up doesn’t mean we already weren’t heading down the road.

Nor should anyone be hoodwinked into thinking that cutting taxes is an exclusively Republican tradition. We’ve been doing it on a bipartisan basis for quite a while now. Thanks to information that’s been put out by the Republicans themselves, here’s a recap of the taxes that were cut when Democrats controlled the Indiana House:

1997: Property and income taxes

1999: Property taxes again

2002: Property taxes once again and the repeal of the corporate gross income tax

2004: Started phasing out the inventory tax

2007: Property taxes again

2008: The largest property tax cut

I would argue that any or all of these cuts were as substantial and will have a longer-lasting effect than anything passed this year.

I certainly would say that the cuts in property taxes have done a great deal more to help Hoosiers than anything that was done this year. You certainly were able to see more benefits sooner, and it put a lot more in your pocket than a buck a week.

There was a chance to do more this year, especially for the middle class. Indiana House Democrats proposed a plan that would have cut income taxes by 15 percent for Hoosiers making less than $25,000, 10 percent for people making between $25,000 and $50,000, 5 percent for Hoosiers making between $50,000 and $100,000, and 2.5 percent for people making between $100,000 and $200,000.

Again, it was relief aimed at the people who needed it the most. Our Republican colleagues chose not to agree with our plan.

Instead, they are bound to their “billion-dollar” tax cut.

They are welcome to it, especially in a couple of years when that extra dollar a week starts rolling in, and most Hoosiers start wondering where the largest tax cut in Indiana history went.

And that means the legacy of this legislative session will not be about the opportunities we provided but of the ones we missed.

Rep. Gregory W. Porter, D-Indianapolis, is ranking Democrat on the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee. He wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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