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Surprise! Property taxes main topic at update

March 05, 2008
Property taxes was the main topic during a legislative update at the Crawford County Judicial Complex on Feb. 23 that featured State Rep. Dennie Oxley and State Sen. Richard Young.

The event, hosted by Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living and the Crawford County Clerk's Office, highlighted the items that have come before legislators during the short session, which runs from January through March 14.

"It's been a difficult session of the General Assembly," Young said. "Property taxes have been driving everything. And property taxes have been an issue for people since I've been in office.

"Over the last seven years a lot has happened. Merging together market value and replacement costs has created the 'perfect storm,' and trending for the last four or five years has made a difference in market values," he said. "The inventory tax has been taken off, and we were told that we would have new business coming in. But that didn't balance things out. Taxes were raised to offset that. Some counties chose to do it, some didn't.

"But this year has been pretty much dedicated to property taxes. Legislators have been putting together ideas, but some were not good. So, there's several amendments that we're going to suggest."

Oxley agreed that property taxes took the forefront in the present session.

"Every year, property tax is an issue," he said, "but not with the kind of emotion we've seen this year. The way that property is assessed is not constitutional. In 2002, (former) Gov. (Frank) O'Bannon called a special session and passed a sweeping tax restructure plan. Sales tax went from 5 to 6 percent, and that money was used for property tax relief. And the governor and the legislators were proactive at the time. Tax bills were about to skyrocket, but before the taxpayers even knew about it, we passed the bill and the huge increases didn't happen.

"But what we didn't do then was make them permanent, and in 2005, a lot of that was undone. If we get something done on it this time, and I believe we will, we need to make it permanent. You can have the best idea, but it takes 51 votes to pass," he continued.

"In 2005, I was in the minority, and there was nothing we could do to stop the budget. Property tax replacement credit was capped. We were not able to increase funding to schools, and that was a recipe for property tax increase," Oxley said.

"But now the governor has put together a credible plan to reduce property taxes. House Bill 1001 has passed from the House to the Senate. Did I agree with all of it? No. But it caused a debate on the issue. Now, that bill is headed for a conference committee."

Oxley said that if a bill that passes the House is changed by the Senate, that legislation must return to the House to see if the changes are OK. If the bill's author agrees with the changes, the representative can file a motion to concur. The entire House then votes on the concurrence. If the House approves the motion, the bill moves to the governor for final action.

However, if the bill's author does not agree with the changes, the representative files a motion to dissent. The matter is then turned over to a conference committee for negotiations. The Senate follows a similar course on bills that were changed in the House.

"Our challenge is to provide property tax relief for everyone," Oxley said. "But we need to do it right. This is the last week to pass bills. During a short session, everything that we normally do in a long session is crammed into a short amount of time. We have to work fast. But I believe this session will give significant relief to property owners."

Another issue that is being debated in the House and Senate is immigration, and Oxley believes the federal government has dropped the ball on the matter.

"We have a tough immigration bill in the House," Oxley said. "The bill would penalize business owners for hiring illegal immigrants. If we stem that tide, we can make progress."

Angela Thompson, who owns a local business with her husband, John, asked about pull-tabs and why businesses, other than taverns, can't sell them.

"It seems the state wants tavern owners to stay in business more than us," she said. "Small business ownership is almost over. All of us are just hanging on day to day. We pay taxes and buy permits for everything. There's worm permits, egg permits. And if we don't have money, we can't borrow any. If we had money, we wouldn't need any."

"You and John should be commended for all you've done for the community," Young said. "All permits have fees, and that adds up. Pull-tabs have not been considered in the Senate. I personally have no problem with stores selling them."

Oxley agreed that pull-tabs should be more accessible to convenient store owners.

Another person in the audience, Debbie Oxley, asked if there was any new retirement plan in the works for state employees.

"Morale is low with state employees," she added. "Friends have turned on each other. There's a lot of stress, right now."

"State employees and legislators have the same insurance plan," Young said. "When our governor was running for office, he was going to listen and everything was going to be great. But there has been total mismanagement by this administration.

"State employees are great men and women and he should recognize that. We need to elect someone who can appreciate state employees and not turn state money and jobs over to private companies."

When asked why they do what they do, Young responded that he finds enjoyment in the accomplishments that he's a part of in the legislative process.

"It's never boring," he said. "Many issues are the same as when I replaced O'Bannon (in the Senate), but they go in different directions. To save programs like SICIL, with help from others, is very satisfying. Just knowing you're able to help people makes you feel good inside — to help your fellow man."

"It's a hard job," Oxley added. "And it's a full-time job, regardless if you're in Indianapolis all the time. But I wouldn't want to do anything else. There's a lot of satisfaction and pride in representing Southern Indiana. It's an honor that people want me there."

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