Murray proceeds to detail the vote on the key issue, the elimination of the local homestead tax credit.
My journalist antennae sprung up Monday night just as the Local Homestead Credit Review Commission’s meeting started to get interesting. The members, after a half-dozen public sessions detailing budget minutiae and the complexities of the homestead property tax credit, were getting ready to vote on whether to recommend that the City-County Council keep that credit, eliminate it, or phase it out over a couple years. At stake, potentially, is $8.3 million in savings for the cash-strapped city/county budget, while most Marion County homeowners would kick in up to $30 extra a year on their property taxes once the credit is gone.
Councilor Robert Lutz
Co-chairman Jim Steele, a former city controller under two Republican mayoral administrations, and commission staff had prepared paper ballots for secret votes, with plans calling only for announcement of the vote splits — not how each member had voted. All this, during a public meeting.
Just as all kinds of red flags went up in my mind, council member Robert Lutz, who sits on the commission, spoke up to object. “This is a public body,” he said. “I don’t think we should do anything in anonymity.”
He added: “I don’t care how you go about it, but when you vote and it affects people, we ought to tell them how we’re voting and why we’re voting that way.”
Ultimately, seven of the 10 members voted for his motion to make the votes public. None of the rest, including Steele, opposed the motion. So the paper ballots stayed, owing to the complexity of the vote, but the clerk read each member’s preferences aloud as she tallied the votes on each issue.
These commission members voted in favor of phasing out the tax credit:
>>Jim Steele, co-chair.
>>Beth Henkel, co-chair.
>>Chris Pryor, government affairs director for Metropolitan Indianapolis Board of Realtors.
>>Joe O’Connor, Marion County assessor (D).
>>Jeff Spalding, City Controller’s designee (and former controller).
>>Marilyn Pfisterer, City-County Council member (R), who isn’t on the commission but attended as the proxy for commission member Jack Sandlin, also a council member (R).
These commission members voted to retain the tax credit:
>>Dan Sellers, chief financial officer of Marion County Health and Hospital Corp.I believe the Commission was split evenly on partisanship with five Republicans and five Democrats. The vote of the Democratic councilors, particularly Vop Osili's, tells me that the Democrats have already zeroed in on this proposed property tax increase as an issue to use against Republicans in the 2015 municipal election. Reportedly some Republican councilors have concluded that this is a no win issue that could burn them in the election. Yet, Mayor Ballard continues to insist that his own party's councilors leap off the political cliff with him.
>>Robert Lutz, City-County Council member (R).
>>Vop Osili, City-County Council member (D).
>>Frank Mascari, City-County Council member (D).