On Monday, the Indianapolis City-County Council will vote on a proposal to create an economic enhancement district. The proposal might seem benign and perhaps even thoughtful and strategic. But I strongly encourage you to fully examine how this district will be funded through a special tax proposed by city elected officials—and who will foot the bill.
If approved, only those living, working and renting in the downtown Mile Square will shoulder the burden of the entire EED tax. For homeowners, the EED tax will be capped at $250 per year. But those who rent properties could pay $400 to $600 per year with no future cap because of the tax charged to apartment owners. Those renting office space could also see significant increases, multiplying pressure on already-stressed commercial office space in the Mile Square. The possibility of annual increases with no ceiling means those who rent or work downtown will be exposed to potential financial exploitation by city leaders. The lack of recourse raises questions about transparency and accountability of the EED tax.
Questions of transparency have already been raised surrounding the way the EED tax was introduced, as the language was slipped into the state budget without a single hearing and proposed for adoption by the council just two days after the mayoral election. Mayor Joe Hogsett neither campaigned on the EED tax nor requested feedback from those impacted. A similar tax was introduced in 2019. At that time, though, state law required 60% of those impacted by the tax to approve it—an important safeguard. The current EED has no such requirement, removing accountability to those impacted by the tax.
Proponents of the EED argue it will spur economic growth and bring about much-needed transformation to our urban landscape. There’s no denying the challenges facing our downtown core, which has unfortunately been neglected by city leaders. However, the current approach of placing the sole responsibility of revitalizing downtown squarely on the shoulders of those already bearing the highest tax burden in the state is unfair and inequitable.
With the EED tax disproportionately affecting renters, the tax could render downtown living unaffordable for many and will exacerbate the current office vacancy problem. The impact of rising rent and additional, uncapped taxes might force individuals and families to leave downtown. It might also discourage business owners from opening stores, bars and restaurants downtown. Building owners might be forced to “give the keys back to the bank” with the EED tax increase and lower occupancy in the Mile Square. This not only poses a threat to the social fabric of downtown living but also raises questions about the long-term sustainability of our community.
DefendDowntown.com is a large group of residents and business owners who live or operate in the Mile Square. We are business owners, restaurant owners, apartment owners, building owners and homeowners who are deeply concerned with the implementation of a new unlimited special taxing district and how that will impact our costs and ability to live or work downtown.
Even if the council approves the EED and the subsequent special taxing district, the ultimate decision on whether to implement the tax rests with the Legislature. DefendDowntown.com is urging those with concerns regarding the EED tax to actively voice their opinions by participating in an online petition at DefendDowntown.com. Your signature will serve as a powerful representation of our collective opposition to this proposed unlimited tax.
Our city leaders must explore more balanced and inclusive strategies to address the challenges faced by our downtown area without disproportionately burdening narrow segments of our city’s population.•
Bosma is a former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives and spokesman for DefendDowntown.com.