Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Did Republicans Vote Against Mayor's Attempt to Raise Property Taxes Signal a Break in the GOP Council Coalition?

During the last meeting of the Indianapolis City-County Council a measure pushed by the administration of Republican Mayor Greg Ballard to raise property taxes by eliminating the local homestead property tax credit failed by an 18-11 margin.  In addition to raising property taxes the measure would have changed property tax distribution with entities like schools, library and townships while the dollars flowing into city government would increase.
Councilor Aaron Freeman

This appears to be the first significant vote the Ballard administration has lost in 5 1/2 years. But most significantly it marks two developments.  The Democrats united on a slam dunk campaign issue to use against Republicans in 2015 and a possible break in the GOP coalition.

Over the last few years, northside Republican councilor Christine Scales has taken a position against the mayor for abandoning fiscal conservative principles to raise taxes and fees and engage in reckless spending projects.  For years she was a lone wolf among Republicans.  Her Republican colleagues were blindly signing on to the Ballard agenda even though it did not reflect the conservative principles they ran on when elected to office.

Despite the Democrats retaking control of the Council following the 2011 election, Ballard continued to win votes on the Council.  The Ballard winning formula was to hold the Republicans caucus together, sans Scales, and pick off a few Democrats generally by offering goodies desired by those councilors.  But on this vote the Democrats remained united and on the Republican side defector Scales was joined in voting against the property tax increase by two other Republican councilors, Bob Lutz who represents a westside district and Aaron Freeman from the southside.

Councilor Bob Lutz
For years, Lutz has long talked the talk of defection back to more conservative principles, but in the end his votes rarely matched his rhetoric.  That appears to have been changing recently.

The newest, and perhaps most surprising defector,, is Freeman.  His comments on the proposed property tax issue reflects his accurate political analysis that the Democrats are laying a trap, i.e. that they're going to use Ballard's continued push for tax and fee increases not only in the Mayor's race but against individual councilors who support those increases.  That strategy should have been evident given two Democratic councilors voted in committee for the property tax undoubtedly so it would reach the floor where all Republicans would have their position recorded to use against them in the 2015 election.

Additionally, Acting Mayor Ryan Vaughn has suggested a local income tax increase will also be proposed (although he apparently forgot to tell Mayor Ballard this), another vote which will be used against Republicans in the 2015 municipal election.  Given the state of the redistricting maps, it is unclear whether the Republican councilors who voted for this measure will be in safe enough districts to withstand an attack for voting for tax increases and especially an increase of the most unpopular tax of all, the property tax.  Clearly McHenry cannot be drawn into a safe district given where she lives.  Minority Leader Mike McQuillen and Jeff Miller are also almost certain to be in a competitive district. They currently represent a district, as does McHenry, which has a majority Democratic baseline.  Even councilors like Marilyn Pfisterer, Will Gooden, Ben Hunter and Jefferson Shreve could find themselves in a competitive district where their continued votes to increase taxes and fees could be used against them.

Hopefully the other Republicans on the council will soon figure out that following the Mayor in jumping off a cliff in pursuit of higher taxes is not good policy or good politics.

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