We should talk about why state even has such authority.
The most juvenile, least productive parts of the debate over the General Assembly’s first override of a Gov. Mike Pence veto are whether it signals a split in the heretofore unified GOP and how much, if any, it weakens the governor’s authority. Beyond these considerations, we find a fascinating look into state taxing policy and how “fair” the law should be to communities and individual taxpayers.
The bill the governor vetoed would retroactively implement local income taxes for Jackson and Pulaski counties. The state had authorized the taxes in 1998, to be used for the construction of jails, but failed to continue the tax in later legislative sessions. The counties were still collecting the taxes – they just technically weren’t allowed to. This fix was meant to bring legislative intent into line with administrative reality.
Pence argued that taxpayers “should not pay taxes that are not owed.” When they do have to pay such taxes, said a gubernatorial spokesman, “they should be offered relief.” Given the governor’s strong anti-tax stand in his campaign for office, it is not terribly surprising that he would treat this legislation as a “new” tax.
Legislators rejected that argument strongly, voting for the override 68-23 in the
House and 34-12 in the Senate. They contend they were merely taking, in the words of Senate President Pro-Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, “a constitutional step” to correct a state mistake. Furthermore, points out Rep. Eric Turner, R-Cicero, residents would end up paying more even without the new taxes because the counties would have to find other ways to pay for the jails.
Unfortunately, the most important question was left out of this debate: Why is the state telling counties what taxes they can raise and for what purpose in the first place? Why isn’t this left in the hands of local officials?
The justification for the concept of home rule is that the officials closest to the problem have a better understanding of it and a better grasp of which solutions are likely to work. Furthermore, if they go too far in taxing and spending to achieve the desired result, they are also the public servants who are closest to and the best known by the voters. It is much easier to “throw the bums out” at the local level than it is at the state or federal level.
Indiana has flirted with greater home rule in recent years but only in fits and starts. Every time it lets the reins of power go on one thing, it seems, it usually asserts some on two new things. And on fiscal matters it seems especially reluctant to step aside. That’s too bad, because that’s where it matters most.