When officials conduct public business behind closed doors, it often comes back to bite them.
That’s what is happening at the Indiana General Assembly, where lawmakers now are considering doing away with a new tax on downtown Indianapolis property. The taxing mechanism was slipped into the state budget in the waning hours of the 2023 state budget, skipping the oft-prolonged legislative process of public committee hearings and debates and denying Hoosiers the opportunity to weigh in.
House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, this week told IBJ’s Peter Blanchard that the issue deserves to be publicly aired and that is why he supports the House Ways and Means Committee decision to hold a hearing on new legislation that would undo the tax.
The trouble is that the Indianapolis City-County Council already has created an economic enhancement taxing district that encompasses all property owners in the Mile Square.
The city now is depending on revenue from the tax to continue funding for downtown cleanliness initiatives, homeless outreach and safety ambassadors and to cover operating costs for a new low-barrier homeless shelter.
While it’s true that the tax deserved a public airing, the time to account for the behind-closed-doors shenanigans was last year when the movement was afoot to slip the taxing mechanism into the state budget.
Leadership in the Republican-dominated Legislature should have stepped in then, insisting that the issue wait until public hearings could be held. But, as is too often the case, that didn’t happen. Instead, leadership allowed short cuts that defy the democratic process. So arguing now that a public airing is needed holds little water.
While we’re neither endorsing nor opposing the new tax, we believe lawmakers need to present a much more compelling reason if they are going to undo their own handiwork and disregard the time and effort of local officials to set the tax into motion.
We also believe the forces opposing the tax should be more transparent in revealing themselves. The Indiana Apartment Association has been outspoken in its opposition. But a group called DefendDowntown.com has been less than forthcoming about who specifically is among its participating members, other than to acknowledge that former House Speaker Brian Bosma is the group’s spokesperson.
Nearly everyone involved in this legislative morass has tried to be too cute by half. Even Democratic city officials were coy about their support of the tax until after they were reelected in November. Then they quickly voted to create the Mile Square taxing district.
Now every elected official with a role in short-circuiting public debate on the issue in the Legislature and on the campaign trail should have to account for their own creation and pledge to do better in the future.•
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