Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 27, 2013

READER POINT OF VIEW: Rep. Culver misses the mark

Goshen News

---- — State Rep. Wes Culver’s Point of View (The Goshen News, Dec. 21) misses the mark, not only regarding the role of the Elkhart County Commissioners, but on most every reason he gave to support his position.

To begin, the “new tax” or better described as the Circuit Breaker Relief Local Option Income Tax, is not solely the Commissioners’ idea. The concept was conceived by the Intergovernmental Forum, a collaborative group comprised of representatives from our community’s cities, towns and county government. The proposal is also supported by our public school superintendents. Everyone agrees this new concept is better than the current options available. The Commissioners are the legislative body of county government, it is logical we take the lead.

Culver then spins political by stating this tax would be added to the “dozens of other taxes” and “take away another 1/2 week of pay.” The county receives income tax and property tax revenue; the other taxes must be state and federal? Additionally, local income taxes are adjusted with deductions and exemptions. Families at the lower end of the wage scale are protected.

It is true we have acquired the services of a lobbying firm. I hope Mr. Culver is not assuming the public is so naïve to believe lobbyists have no role in what happens in Indianapolis. One of the more powerful lobbying groups in the state — the Indiana Chamber of Commerce — is currently working to implement its policy of eliminating business personal property taxes. Many interest groups are represented by lobbyists. The county is acknowledging the real world of the legislative environment. Other legislators need to learn about our idea; if our representatives were able to focus only on our issue, we would not need a lobbyist. But that is not the case.

Culver indicates the purpose of the tax caps is to “prevent government from raising taxes.” Not true. At the time the tax caps were passed, the Legislature created three new local option income taxes. The purpose of the caps is to shift local government funding from property taxes to income taxes. Elkhart County did not enact these new taxes because we did not need them. The recession changed this situation. We still have the existing three options. Yet enacting these will likely result in a tax rate higher than our new concept and a tax rate that could be permanent. Our idea ties the tax rate to our economic recovery. If we recover, and I believe we will, the rate automatically declines and could go away.

Culver engages in yet another questionable reasoning tactic, by referencing a simple percentage increase in income tax revenue to question why we need another tax. Percentages don’t pay bills; dollars pay the bills. From 2012 to 2013 the income tax revenue gain for the entire county was $3 million — the recession-related funding shortfall was $37 million. Next year the revenue projection is an increase of $11 million. Unfortunately, increasing costs (health insurance for example), will use up a good portion of this increase. We are treading water a few feet below the surface.

Although he received several invitations, Rep. Culver formed his opinion without discussing the county’s lower rate tax option with anyone in the Commissioners’ office.

He not only receives a ‘fail’ on reasoning, his opinion also implies locally-elected school boards and city and county councils are spendthrifts. Culver has never attended a county budget session during my 12 years in office and I suspect he has never attended a school board budget session or a city council budget session. He fails to acknowledge the significant cost reductions achieved by these elected officials. Instead he writes “we want what we always had.”

Local budgets are being balanced every year by people who live, work and pay taxes in this community. They are elected by the people to protect and enable a safe and vibrant community. And they deserve far more respect from our state legislators than represented in Culver’s point of view.

Mike Yoder is an Elkhart County Commissioner.