This week, the Indiana House of Representatives voted in the best interest of Indianapolis taxpayers with the passage of House Bill 1199. This piece of legislation would repeal the proposed Economic Enhancement District within the downtown Mile Square. This intervention by the General Assembly is a step toward ensuring property owners and businesses within the Mile Square are not subject to arbitrary and unlimited taxation.
During a recent committee meeting, opponents of the repeal marshaled 31 individuals to testify against undoing the EED. However, fewer than half of the individuals who testified will be directly affected by the proposed tax. I represent DefendDowntown.com, a group of 500 business owners and residents who will bear the brunt of this tax burden firsthand because they live and work in the Mile Square.
The main argument against the EED is that those subject to the tax were excluded from the decision-making process. The proposal for the EED was thrust into existence without due diligence or adequate public discourse. The city also waited until the mayoral election was over before revealing the details of this economic overhaul a mere two days later. Lastly, the EED tax remains uncapped for businesses and those who rent properties in the Mile Square. This means property owners and businesses could experience unlimited tax increases well into the future.
A recent op-ed by a supporter of the EED noted improvements to downtown are becoming more evident, citing cleaner streets, more workers and visitors patronizing businesses and a surge in new development. The coalition that makes up DefendDowntown.com wants to see these improvements continue, too. But we insist on a process that is transparent and fully engages with those whose hard-earned dollars are being utilized.
The city already has a funding mechanism for downtown improvements called an Economic Improvement District. Peer cities faced with similar challenges have successfully utilized EIDs to create a vision and build a consensus among taxpayers to finance downtown improvements. This begs the question: Why forsake an existing, proven model in favor of an untested and divisive alternative?
I believe the answer to this question is simple. Support for an EID requires a two-tiered approval by 60% of the property owners within the district and 60% of the assessed value within the district. City leaders know they won’t receive that support, so they’re seeking an alternative. However, there is no substitute for a well-established and widely accepted process that promotes democratic principles and fairness.
Supporters of House Bill 1199 are not against progress, but we insist on responsible governance. The EED, hastily implemented and lacking broad support, is not in the best interest of downtown residents and businesses. As the bill progresses through the Legislature, I encourage our elected officials to consider the strong backing from DefendDowntown.com, a coalition representing genuine stakeholders of this tax. It’s time to reevaluate, repeal and use the current process, which requires support from those who are being taxed.
Wood is the spokesman for DefendDowntown.com.