Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Property Tax Ruckus

When I'm in Indiana these days, I am frequently conducting title searches for AT&T. My starting point can sometimes be the Township Assessor's offices, when I need detailed property information to start before I go pulling deeds and plats at the County Recorder's Office.

So, what a hoot to research at the following Marion County township offices: Washington, Lawrence, and Warren.

The lines were longest and angriest in Washington Township. Understand that there is rarely any kind of wait for me to get to a public computer for research. At the Washington Assessor's this morning, there were two lines with four property owners each. Every waiting room chair was filled. Every cubicle had a deputy reviewing a property with the owner present. All- and I do mean all- were seeking to file a form disputing the new assessed value.

I overheard one man, at wits end, explaining the absurdity of his re-assessment. He bought his property in 2005 at $180,000. It was re-assessed at $240,000. For 2005. He was beside himself, explaining that his purchase represents market price. He was the market for that house in 2005! Shouldn't his purchase price carry the day? Made sense to me. I had great sympathy for him. I thought he was going to burst a vein in his temple.

This scenario was similar at Lawrence and Warren Townships, just not quite as angry.

It pains me that it requires this kind of pain for taxpayers to finally stir. It bothers me more that the nature of the complaints is merely the new assessments. The assessments aren't the root problem. The spending by municipal and county governments is out of control.

The Governor is now in on the grandstanding, hinting at a possible special session to address the problem of property taxes. Yes, there is some good the Statehouse could do- like eliminate property taxes altogether. They won't do that, though. They'll come up with some new shell game that allows the local governments to spend to their hearts' content while providing the facade of tax relief. From the Indy Star report:
"As governor, I will take every step I have authority to take to help Hoosier homeowners," Daniels said in a statement issued by his office Monday night.
Nice rhetoric. Empty rhetoric.

The calls to the Statehouse and the Governor are misplaced. Call the City-County Council in Marion County. Call Mayor Peterson's office. These are the people in charge of the budgets.

Bottom line: if Indianapolis and other local governments weren't spending so much, there wouldn't have been a push to update the assessments. Re-assessing was seen as a way to gain tax revenues without being perceived as raising taxes. It certainly is raising taxes. Really, especially in the case of those on fixed incomes, it isn't merely taxing, it's confiscatory.

Anyhow, I'm sort of glad the people are somewhat awakened to the absurdity of our tax burden. I'm dismayed that what the awakening suggests is that it's okay to tax us at an incredibly high level, but we draw the line when we stand to lose the house. Yikes.

Tax Freedom Day is a concept I have promoted on this blog and on my radio shows in the past. What is Tax Freedom Day? It is the day that we are through working to pay for government. After that day, you are earning for yourself and your family.

This year, in Indiana, you stopped working for the government on April 23. After that you were earning for yourself. State map.

That's nuts. And yet, we accept it. We only draw the line when threatened with losing our homes. Here's a telling quote from the Tax Foundation:
"Americans will work longer to pay for government (120 days) than they will for food, clothing and housing combined (105 days)," said Hodge. "Since 1986 taxes have cost more than these basic necessities. In fact, Americans will work longer to afford federal taxes alone (79 days) than they will to afford housing (62 days)."
My understanding is that the Boston Tea Party was staged over a 1% tax. Oh, to have that kind of vigilance today!

Go to the various tax protests happening Sunday and Monday. From the Star:
• Sunday: "Black Sunday" asks supporters to wear black to show unity and bring signs to Monument Circle from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Several groups seeking tax reform are organizing the event.
• Monday: Hoosiers for Fair Taxation, which gathered at the governor's residence July 4, will rally at 5:30 p.m. at the City-County Building Downtown.

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