Francesca Jarosz’s feature in today’s Indianapolis Star ("Caps cut services along with taxes") details the budgetary struggles being faced by Indianapolis/Marion County as property tax caps place new limits on revenues, exacerbated by the lingering effects of the national recession.
Communities across Indiana are facing similar issues, as the ‘perfect storm’ created by the economic downturn and the implementation of the caps have left local governments hundreds of millions of dollars in the red. It’s led to police and firefighter layoffs, roadwork deferred, hikes in local taxes and user fees, libraries and parks closed. (The American Library Association says that Indiana reported more library branches closed last year than any other state.) Cuts in public education have been well-chronicled.
However, it’s important that Indiana protect homeowners from skyrocketing property taxes, and ensure a fair and predictable tax system for business. And economic downturns are inevitable – no economic strategy has yet conquered the business cycle.
The real culprit here is our stubborn resistance of local government reform, fixing a broken system that supports thousands of township governments, turns administrative offices into political fiefdoms and codifies a patchwork of overlapping bureaucracies that breeds inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Until we are willing to restructure local government to allow it to do more with less, knee-jerk austerity measures or higher taxes are our only two options.
(Get a refresher on the common-sense government reforms recommended by the Kernan-Shepard Commission here.)