Lawmakers strip key bill of most property tax relief

Sweeping Senate amendments swapped out language

By: - April 12, 2023 6:45 am
relief tax task force

Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, made big changes to House Bill 1499 – removing much of the property tax relief it contained. (Monroe Bush for Indiana Capital Chronicle)

House legislation tackling high property tax bills lost the majority of those provisions during a Senate committee meeting Tuesday, with senators saying “permanent” relief could come in the future after Indiana reduces pension liabilities.

Republicans instead inserted three food and beverage tax bills into the proposal, wading into a local dispute.

“It looked like we were rather harsh with the House-passed version of property tax reform,” committee chair Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said. “But … we have done several pieces of legislation with property taxpayers in mind.”

House Bill 1499 previously would have temporarily lowered the Indiana’s property tax caps, increased state income tax deductions and limited local tax levy boosts. House lawmakers passed the lengthy, complex bill 94-1, back in February.

Since then, homeowners have begun receiving property tax bills that are averaging a 20% increase statewide.

But the Senate has consistently been skeptical of far-reaching relief. And the bill itself has faced heavy opposition from school and local officials because it would reduce local revenues for necessary services.

Holdman introduced a 34-page amendment cutting those provisions out.

Four witnesses who’d signed up to testify in opposition to the original bill waived their time after the committee adopted the edits via consent. Senators of both parties changed their minds as well, with Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis — formerly a municipal controller — thanking Holdman for the changes.

But property owners might be left in the lurch.

What remains — and what’s new

Holdman left two provisions that were also once standalone bills.

One would make it easier for property owners to contest their property tax assessments. Property owners don’t have to get independent appraisals done to appeal, but if they do, county officials would have to presume that appraisal’s value is correct. The provision also details how to resolve disagreements.

The other provision is specific to bills payable this year. It would let counties choose to provide their own property tax relief. Changes at the local level could take effect as early as this fall. But it doesn’t fill the resulting financial gap with state dollars, leaving it unlikely that a county would voluntarily cut a key revenue source.

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Another amendment, from Sen. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton, would change the state’s deduction for Hoosiers 65 and older by tying it to cost of living adjustments for Social Security benefits. The committee also consented to it.

One woman asked the committee to go further — to freeze assessed valuations and property taxes for seniors. Suzan Davis told lawmakers that she began working and saving money as a teen, and is still working 50 years later.

“I’ve paid my dues, and so have other seniors with fixed incomes formulated on generation-old salaries,” Davis said. But she said pricier new builds in her area are bringing up the taxes on her older home.

“I’m being squeezed out of my home at this age and stage,” Davis added. “I can’t afford to move. I can’t afford to stay.”

Other changes

Holdman’s amendment also inserted the contents of three bills related to food and beverage taxes, with senators stepping into a debate between the city of Bloomington and Monroe County.

Rep. Mike Gaskill, R-Pendleton. (Courtesy Senate Republicans)

Lawmakers accused the local governments of misspending the money — which is meant to be spent on specific projects, tourism and economic development — by financially supporting restaurants during the worst of the pandemic.

“As I look at these different sections in the amendment, I think it’s subjected you to a little bit more scrutiny, but still allows you to do what your original intention was,” Gaskill told Monroe’s commissioner. “But I think you have to be a little bit more transparent.”

Another amendment made changes to specific county innkeeper’s taxes.

Multiple ambitious attempts to cushion the impact of the state’s market-based system have failed to advance this year. But lawmakers have said big changes could come in the years to come.

Holdman himself authored legislation creating a multi-year task force broadly examining state and local taxes. And Republicans have pushed to fully fund the state’s only outstanding debt — a pension fund for teachers who retired before 1996 — which they view as key to possibly dropping the income tax.

“The sooner that we get that done, the sooner we can enact permanent tax relief that will be much more significant than the small pieces that we’ve seen crop up in the last few years,” Gaskill said.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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