Bill to undo Mile Square property tax passes House with support from Speaker Todd Huston

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Indiana Statehouse
Indiana Statehouse

The Indiana House approved legislation Tuesday that would take away the city of Indianapolis’ ability to impose a fee on downtown property owners to help pay for the operating costs of a homeless shelter and various improvements in the city’s Mile Square, a mechanism authorized by the Legislature just a year ago.

The Republican-controlled House voted 64-29, mostly along party lines, to send House Bill 1199, authored by Rep. Julie McGuire, R-Indianapolis, to the Senate.

The bill would repeal a law the Republican-dominated Legislature approved last year in the waning hours of the legislative session that gave Indianapolis city government the authority to create an economic enhancement district, which the Democrat-controlled City-County Council voted to approve in December.

The district, expected to generate $5.5 million annually, would continue downtown enhancement efforts started by Downtown Indy, Inc. using $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money that will run out this year.

The House also passed a separate measure, House Bill 1121, that would provide the city with alternative way top pay for improvements and service projects in the Mile Square. That proposal would allow the City-County Council to increase the countywide local income tax by .02%.

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Lizton, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the bill gives Marion County “another tool in its toolbox” to make improvements in the city’s urban core.

“It allows some more autonomy and also would set up a board that would oversee those kinds of improvements in that Mile Square,” Thompson said.

Democrats were critical of the proposal, saying it amounts to government overreach and taxation without representation.

“This is really micromanaging at the fullest,” said Rep. Cherrish Pryor, D-Indianapolis.

In a rare move, House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, testified on the House floor in favor of both pieces of legislation.

He responded to accusations that the state was treating Indianapolis as an adversary, noting city and state cooperation in 2019 to create the Capital Improvement Board, which benefits capital projects in Marion County but is funded by the entire state, and state investments in the IUPUI campus.

Huston also accepted some blame for the economic enhancement district language getting into the budget, saying “it wasn’t properly vetted.”

He also questioned why the city couldn’t find money in its $1.5 billion budget to make improvements to Mile Square.

“We’re interested in a strong downtown. We’re interested in clean streets,” Huston said. “We just want governments to look responsible, and if it’s important, then raise your [local income] tax. Convince your constituents that live outside the downtown Mile Square…just like we tell our constituents when we invest in downtown Indianapolis.”

The effort to undo the Mile Square taxing district faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Sen. Kyle Walker, a Republican whose district includes portions of Marion and Hamilton counties, was a key player in getting language into the state budget that allowed Indianapolis to create the district. He previously told IBJ he opposes the bill as written but could support “additional guardrails” around the tax.

While the economic enhancement district has enjoyed strong support from a broad coalition, including groups like Downtown Indy, Inc., the Indy Chamber and Visit Indy and companies including AES Indiana, Elanco Animal Health and Salesforce, it has powerful opponents in the Indiana Apartment Association, the Indiana chapter for Americans for Prosperity and some downtown property owners.

Supporters of the repeal also argued that the city could have established an economic improvement district, or EID, under a previously existing law that requires a certain number of signatures from property owners who support the taxing district.

Under that law, a 2018 effort by Downtown Indy Inc. to establish an economic improvement district failed in the face of heavy opposition from the Indiana Apartment Association and a dispute over whether the not-for-profit had collected the required signatures from more than 50 percent of property owners.

The effort to take away the district has also had help from outside groups.

The American Jobs and Growth Fund, a Virginia-based group supporting conservative causes, spent more than $11,000 on Facebook ads on behalf of DefendDowntown.com, which has the support of the influential Indiana Apartment Association. The American Jobs and Growth Fund also hired a lobbyist—Republican strategist Kory Wood, who worked on Carmel Mayor Sue Finkam’s campaign—to testify before House lawmakers urging them to repeal the district, Mirror Indy reported.

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20 thoughts on “Bill to undo Mile Square property tax passes House with support from Speaker Todd Huston

  1. The great thing is there is nothing preventing these companies from donating all the money they want to these causes: “Downtown Indy, Inc., the Indy Chamber and Visit Indy and companies including AES Indiana, Elanco Animal Health and Salesforce.” With a county-wide income tax, all the residents get to chip in. If it’s a good idea, all the Marion County residents should be thrilled to chip in money forever (since Government only rarely stops taxing).

  2. Mile Square property owners – who disproportionately live out of Marion County and out of state – lobbied to increase the income taxes of all Marion County residents to improve their properties.

    That’s really all there is to it.

  3. Downtown has been subsidized with *billions* of taxpayer dollars over the decades. If the businesses and other private investors in the Mile Square want the city to spend more downtown to maintain a Potemkin village for visitors and convention attendees, then they should foot the bill.

    The city will still reward every developer who comes along begging for a taxpayer handout to build their latest project, but the ones who are already there should at least chip in a little extra if they want extra level of services. The rest of the city certainly does not get the level of services and attention that downtown does, and it is irksome that even a measly $5 million a year has to get pushed out on everyone else.

    1. Less than $10 per person per year to get the 5.5M. Not a bad sacrifice for keeping downtown clean and orderly.

    2. QUESTION? Somebody of authoritative knowledge please define orderly.

      Imagine if we were treated like the mentally ill we call homeless. Will that 5 million also go to set some boundaries to control them from sleeping on the sidewalks and alleys? Are they going to have the qualified staff to really help them? Or just let.them make their mentally unstable choices. Not fair to them.

    3. Kevin, if it is not a bad “sacrifice” to keep downtown “orderly and clean,” then the downtown *corporate welfare queens* can and should be the ones to foot the majority of the cost.

      They have had their handouts for many decades, and it is time they finally shoulder their fair share. Or, we can let downtown get “disorderly and unclean,” and they can enjoy the same level of public services as the rest of the city.

    1. Charles notice that the DEMOCRAT controlled City County Council can vote against it. Lets see how that plays out.

      The bill would repeal a law the Republican-dominated Legislature approved last year in the waning hours of the legislative session that gave Indianapolis city government the authority to create an economic enhancement district, which the Democrat-controlled City-County Council voted to approve in December.

    2. “Huston also questioned why the city couldn’t find money in its $1.5 billion budget to make improvements to Mile Square.”

      In part, because they have to attempt to cover the infrastructure underfunding that Huston can’t bother to lift a finger to fix.

      Such is life when you’ve gerrymandered your district such that you’ve picked your voters, not the other way around.

      https://ballotpedia.org/Indiana_House_of_Representatives_District_37

    3. Lol; that’s cute, Doug. So what would you call dolling out billions of taxpayer dollars to private out-of-state corporations by the IEDC with little/no oversight and transparency? I think you’re projecting.

  4. Regardless of where the money comes from, the initiative will go flat until administration’s sets boundaries on the homeless plus spends the money to bring in top psychologists to work with the patients. They are mentally ill and are weak at making decisions on there own.

  5. This statement is exactly what no one needs, and that is to give any governing body more autonomy.

    “It allows some more autonomy and also would set up a board that would oversee those kinds of improvements in that Mile Square,” Thompson said.”

    Another board that will undoubtedly cost more to fill the seats and have meetings than will ultimately get to the right places.

    Fix the roads, fix the crime, solve the homeless issues, tax this group but not this group, support this group but not that group.

    Maybe the issue is the politicians that we continue to elect thinking they will better stewards of the legacy of downtown or any other community.

    1. The board is all about control and making sure the city doesn’t do anything that doesn’t have Republican support. From the bill:

      “If the adopting body adopts an ordinance under IC 6-3.6-6-2.4, the Mile Square improvement and services projects board is established. The board consists of eight (8) members to be appointed as follows:
      (1) Two (2) members appointed by the legislative body of the consolidated city.
      (2) Two (2) members appointed by the mayor of the consolidated city.
      (3) Four (4) members appointed by the governor. One (1) of the members appointed under this subdivision must represent the business community and own real property located within the Mile Square area of the consolidated city. The president pro tempore of the senate and the speaker of the house of representatives may each make one (1) recommendation to the governor concerning the appointment of a member under this subdivision.

      A majority of the board members must own real property within the Mile Square area of the consolidated city. Each board member shall serve a term of one (1) year from the first day of January after the board member’s appointment and until the board member’s successor is appointed and qualified.

      A proposal before the board must receive at least five (5) votes to authorize action by the board.”

  6. I’d like to see City and State Legislature set aside a small percentage of the downtown tax dollars diverted to fund Gainbridge/LOS/ICC and use those funds to pay for these services.

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