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NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: House bill asks for better representation in making tax increases

“No taxation without representation” is an American mantra that represents a key demand on the list of grievances against England that helped lead to our independence.

It’s a phrase that has re-emerged through the past two-plus centuries whenever American taxpayers believe the government is not fairly representing its citizens in levying taxes. And that’s essentially the reason for House Bill 1065 in Indiana’s General Assembly in the current legislative session in Indianapolis.

We think it is an issue worth consideration that could lead to a more representative system of taxation that doesn’t simply suck in the money of voiceless Allen County residents who live in other towns for Fort Wayne’s use.

Allen County’s Local Income Tax rate was increased in 2013 and 2017 in accordance with state law, which directs such action is to be determined by a council comprised of the fiscal body of the county and the municipalities within, with votes allocated by population. Since approximately 70 percent of Allen County’s population (about 250,000 of the county’s 355,000 total) lives within the Fort Wayne city limits, City Council has the majority of votes.

So in 2017 the votes of six of nine members of Fort Wayne City Council was enough to increase income taxes for all our county’s residents, regardless of the wishes of New Haven, Huntertown, Monroeville and other members of the Allen County Income Tax Council.

The bill would require future tax increases to be approved by elected officials representing more than half of Allen County’s population. If the bill passes, City Council could pass an increase only if seven members voted to do so. Otherwise, any increase would require cooperation between City Council and other bodies, such as county council.

HB 1065 was authored by Rep. Jefferey Thompson of Lizton (District 28) and introduced by he, Dave Heine (Fort Wayne, District 85) and Edward Clere (Georgetown, District 72).

County Councilman Kyle Kerley, New Haven Mayor Steve McMichael and other county officials were in Indianapolis last week to testify in favor of the bill, which would require future tax increases to be approved by elected officials representing more than half of Allen County’s population.

The bill has been approved by the House and now moves on to the Senate.

“In my perfect world,” Kerley told News-Sentinel.com’s Kevin Leininger last week, “every municipality would decide these (tax increases) at the municipal level.”

But Fort Wayne spokesman John Perlich told Leininger last week that he has doubts about the need for such a law because the process works the way it is. “A shift in this process as outlined in the proposed legislation has the potential to substantially slow the progress we’ve been experiencing,” he said.

He and other Fort Wayne and Indianapolis officials would argue that the current system already represents a majority of county residents, and that they benefit from the funds raised by their tax increases. But Kerley said representatives from counties with situations similar to Allen’s, such as Monroe (Bloomington) and Tippecanoe (Lafayette), testified in favor of the bill.

So the basic question is whether residents of New Haven, Monroeville or Huntertown, for example, should pay higher taxes for Fort Wayne’s parks, police and sidewalks.

As Leininger asked in his column last week, why should Indiana citizens pay higher taxes if they have not voted for the increase? HB 1065 seeks a more representative solution in making that case. Isn’t that the American way?

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