Opponents of downtown tax to seek reprieve from Legislature, Bosma says

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The city and Downtown Indy Inc. last month released renderings of what it hoped to create with Spark. (Courtesy of Merritt Chase architects)

A group of property owners in downtown Indianapolis plans to ask state lawmakers to either undo or make changes to a new provision in state law that allows the city to impose a fee on property owners in the Mile Square to fund improvements to downtown and the operating costs of a homeless shelter.

Attorney and former Indiana House speaker Brian Bosma, speaking on behalf of an organization called DefendDowntown.com, which includes commercial businesses, restaurant owners, residential homeowners and the influential Indiana Apartment Association, told IBJ that the coalition is asking the Legislature to reconsider the concept when it convenes in January.

The group previously had hinted that such an effort was possible, but Bosma’s comments this week are the first definitive pronouncement.

It’s unclear, however, if lawmakers would be open to rolling back the Mile Square tax, which was slipped into the 2023 state budget by Republican fiscal leaders without public input.

“I think this is a big ask to tell the legislature that they ought to undo that which they barely got done,” said Rep. Ed Delaney, D-Indianapolis. “The ink is hardly dry on this measure.”

Bosma, spokesman for Defend Downtown, has emerged as the leading voice for opponents of the taxing mechanism, though he said he hasn’t decided whether he will lobby for the cause.

The Democratic-controlled Indianapolis City-County Council set the wheels in motion for the tax on Monday when it voted 19-5 along party lines to create an economic enhancement taxing district within the boundaries of the Mile Square.

But in a recent op-ed for IBJ, Bosma, a Republican, argued that “the ultimate decision on whether to implement the tax rests with the Legislature.”

Bosma, who served in the Indiana House from 1986 to 2020 and was speaker for 12 years, still holds influence at the GOP-controlled Legislature, said Andy Downs, professor emeritus of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue University Fort Wayne.

“It can’t hurt to have Brian Bosma on your side,” Downs said. “He clearly knows the process. He clearly has connections in the world of politics.”

Bosma said Monday’s council vote was “just one step in an ongoing process” and that he looks forward to the issue “getting publicly debated” in the 2024 legislative session.

“DefendDowntown.com has heard from numerous stakeholders questioning why the businesses and residents who struggled through the past years, but remained downtown, are now being forced to shoulder the burden of this increased tax for the entire city,” Bosma told IBJ.

Gov. Eric Holcomb, whose office was in discussions with legislative leaders about the concept during the 2023 legislative session, said he expects there to be more conversations in the upcoming session.

“I’m in support of the concept, but the devil is in the details,” Holcomb said. “The legislature has some questions as well, and so it will be rehashed, I’m sure, in this coming short session, and we’ll be a part of that.”

Under the proposal, single-family homeowners would pay an annual $250 flat fee starting in 2025. Based on a formula in the ordinance, owners of commercial properties are expected to pay nearly 0.17% of their properties’ gross assessed value, or about $1,681 per $1 million in gross assessed value. Apartment owners as a group would bear the largest portion hit by the new tax, contributing $1.87 million of the $5.5 million expected to be generated annually.

The revenue would continue Downtown Indy Inc. enhancement efforts begun a year ago with $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.

Monday night’s vote means the city and state must create a governing board to oversee the new district, which is designed to have four members appointed by Statehouse leaders (who are Republicans) and an equal number appointed by city leaders (who are Democrats). That board would ultimately decide whether to impose the tax on Mile Square property owners.

CORRECTION: This story has been changed to accurately reflect the years Brian Bosma served in the Indiana House of Representatives. He was first elected in 1986 and served through 2020.

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14 thoughts on “Opponents of downtown tax to seek reprieve from Legislature, Bosma says

  1. “The revenue would continue Downtown Indy Inc. enhancement efforts begun a year ago with $3.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief money. It also would help pay for the…..”

    You didn’t finish the sentence.

  2. From the article that claimed this was slipped in:

    “Through interviews with at least 10 people involved in the last-minute swirl of activity, the picture that emerges is that the tax district proposal was born out of a desire by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office to find a way for Indianapolis to pay for the operating costs of a proposed low-barrier homeless shelter.

    The pending state budget already included a $20 million low-barrier-shelter statewide grant fund, from which Indianapolis could obtain a one-time infusion of cash. The Hogsett administration also has set aside $12 million to build the shelter.

    To meet the shelter’s ongoing operating costs, Republican State Sen. Kyle Walker, who represents portions of Marion and Hamilton counties, proposed language in conjunction with Indy Chamber to allow the city to create a downtown taxing district without a petition requirement.

    When Downtown Indy Inc. officials learned about the potential tax district, they worked with Indy Chamber to be involved in the discussion.“

    There are three ways to pay for the operations of the shelter:
    1) allow the city to have a tax for it.
    2) relieve the city of some obligations and ask them to fund it from their city budget… which, reminder, has passed with bipartisan support the last few years.
    3) identify specifically what you want the city to stop spending money on, instead redirecting spending to the shelter

    The opponents of the tax appear to want all the benefits of clearing the streets of people living downtown … I’d suggest they either get into the budget and make specific suggestions or start selling Marion County residents on how they should all pay this tax. Then again, maybe just paying Brian Bosma to call in favors and twist arms is the cheapest immediate solution, long term consequences regardless.

    1. Maybe it’s a sign … that most people are OK with it.

      Outside of the apartment association, can anyone name downtown businesses who have been willing to say out loud they’re against the new tax?

    2. The Apartment Association wants nice things and they want them for free. IAA has been deep in the pockets of politicians for years, blocking basic tenant protections and reasonable regulations, all the while happy to take subsidies from cities and the state for developments.

  3. Downtown property owners and merchants have been asking for this for years. Did they think it would just appear out of thin air? If you want extra services that other neighborhoods don’t get, you have to pay for it.

  4. I have lived downtown, proudly and happily, for over 35 years. And while my home falls just outside of the taxing district, I would happily contribute, and strongly believe this is a very good thing for our neighborhoods and city.

  5. I make a suggestion.
    But before I do, before you yay sayers take me to the back hanging tree, know this. I’ve probably helped, tried to employee and have had more homeless in my home than you ever will. I care, but the way the owners of the project are behaving is totally reckless. So put your hanging rope back in the closet.

    The proponents, might take a look at the plan for this initiative before voting to save people who don’t want to be saved. I live directly on the property line of this proposed shelter. I have for 10 years. I’ve picked up dead homeless and tried to help their friends. They don’t want it unless there are no rules. Why? because they are mentally impacted. I’ve been developing a dream that will contribute to the city economically and socially. But who cares. not the city. at least they’ve disrespected me so far.
    1. Whoever is spearheading the project has had years and official studys to work from for the plan. Yet, at the first two meetings hosted by SEND, we learned that no one in the area was consulted before they bought the land for the project next to us.
    2. Ask them some question’s and you will find out they Don’t have it fully planned out yet. Meaning, They don’t have an operator, they have not acquired enough land to build the project as it should be, they have no idea what security will control the same behavior as at other shelters or downtown.

    3. Those representing the city don’t seem to know the investment in money, facility or professional commitment it will take to rehabilitate 1 homeless person. BTW , about 2 years and some high end professionals the city probably can’t fit in the budget.

    4. They don’t have enough housing for those already sleeping on the streets and have been made commitments for housing.

    5. I’m not an expert at instagram but I was able to break into an article hosted by a 20 year homeless veteran that clearly states, its more profitable for not for profits to play this game than not.

    6. Ask the homeless if they want recovery. We may spend multi millions to rehabilitate 300 of the 1900 homeless. The rest feed off of freebees.

    Now the city is asking you to pay fees to support an initiative they are still tripping over.

    Plus, they are putting it in an area that will be deplete its social and economic potential. Our area is in better condition than Fountain Square and Mass Avenue was 20 years ago.

    I’ve written the Mayor 6 times. 3 online and 3 on paper. Silence. Is this community effort? I think not.
    Better find out more before taxing the mile square area.

    Again, i’d like to save the people but I don’t believe in being Santa Clause.

    1. Helping people get off the streets is not “playing Santa Claus,” it is an act of basic human compassion and decency. It’s not a gift to ensure that human beings have access to the most basic shelter and sustenance. Also, I do not want to hear a single word of complaint from individuals or businesses about homeless people downtown if they do not want to spend money helping them.

      The handful of property owners in the big apartment building lobby want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to the city to help them retain the value of their apartment buildings by having the downtown be a desirable place to rent. They want the city to pay to resolve the issue of homeless downtown, they want flowers planted, and streets to get extra cleanings—everything kept extra sparkly and beautiful. All these things cost money, but these big property owners want the rest of the city, outside of downtown to pay for it. Downtown already has received *billions and billions* of direct public subsidies and tax breaks over the years. So, let these downtown property owners get the same *basic* service the rest of the city gets, nothing more, and then they can keep their fees.

  6. The issue is this: Downtown infrastructure is so poor the any visitor or resident not already numb to this reality is likely to ask, “What is wrong here?” Why are the road and sidewalk pavements crumbling? Why is do the landscaping and even the trash receptacles look like crap? Why are are trees missing from so many obvious places that would benefit from trees? Why are the green spaces and plazas mostly devoid of life? Where are the high quality daycares and where is the streetfront retail that attract and retain people who can afford to go elsewhere.” Stop the race to the bottom! That is a big-time loser mentality! Low taxes are great, all else equal. But all else is not equal, when public infrastructure is poor. Without good center city infrastructure for people, Indy will lose the competition for residents, businesses, jobs and quality of life. We need fewer of the tired old naysaying race-to-the-bottom tax cutters and more proactive problem solvers. We need reasonable taxes from downtown and from the city as a whole to support center city infrastructure and quality of life. Let’s make better decisions. If billions can be raised for pro sports, a new city-owned hotel and endless convention center expansion, then why can’t Indy do at least as much for the real public infrastructure we would like to see and use everyday? City center is the heart of the city and the region. To the extent it thrives or dies, so does the whole rest of the place.

  7. The issue is this: Downtown infrastructure is so poor that any visitor or resident not already numb to this reality is likely to ask, “What is wrong here?” Why are the road and sidewalk pavements crumbling? Why is do the landscaping and even the trash receptacles look like crap? Why are are trees missing from so many obvious places that would benefit from trees? Why are the green spaces and plazas mostly devoid of life? Where are the high quality daycares and where is the streetfront retail that attract and retain people who can afford to go elsewhere.” Stop the race to the bottom! That is a big-time loser mentality! Low taxes are great, all else equal. But all else is not equal, when public infrastructure is poor. Without good center city infrastructure for people, Indy will lose the competition for residents, businesses, jobs and quality of life. We need fewer of the tired old naysaying race-to-the-bottom tax cutters and more proactive problem solvers. We need reasonable taxes from downtown and from the city as a whole to support center city infrastructure and quality of life. Let’s make better decisions. If billions can be raised for pro sports, a new city-owned hotel and endless convention center expansion, then why can’t Indy do at least as much for the real public infrastructure we would like to see and use everyday? City center is the heart of the city and the region. To the extent it thrives or dies, so does the whole rest of the place.

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