INDIANAPOLIS | Gov. Mike Pence's call to repeal the business personal property tax likely won't have the revenue impact that many local leaders feared once House Republicans get through with it.
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Wednesday rather than eliminating outright a tax that provides $1 billion annually to Indiana schools and local governments, his members support allowing each county to decide whether to drop the tax — and only for new business and manufacturing equipment.
"We think it's the smart route to give local counties the option to do what they know their community needs," Bosma said.
The House GOP plan would not permit existing businesses to move from county to county chasing the tax cut. Instead, it's intended to lure companies from other states to Indiana counties that want to boost their industrial output.
"It has the added benefit of maybe giving a little incentive to these areas where there's not a lot of investment, yet," Bosma said.
House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, praised Bosma for reining in the Republican governor's proposal, which likely would have shifted taxes now paid by businesses onto property owners and wage earners.
The business personal property tax brings in $74.2 million a year for Lake County schools and local governments, $14 million in Porter County and $7.2 million in LaPorte County, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
"If you look at what the speaker actually proposed here, it's basically just tax abatement. It's basically what local communities can already do," Pelath said. "The speaker has basically said, 'Governor, I will hand you another fig leaf, but we're not going to do much more than that.' That's good."
Pence declared last month his top legislative priority is getting rid of the business personal property tax, which he claims is necessary to boost Indiana's already top-rated business tax climate. However, he repeatedly has said he'll let lawmakers decide how to do it.
"We are supportive of this legislation," said Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault.
The remainder of the House Republican agenda is a reworking of measures they've advanced in prior years, including tax incentives for job training programs, spending up to $400 million previously set aside for highway improvements and a preschool pilot program giving up to 1,000 low-income children vouchers to attend early education classes.
"It reflects what people have been talking about for the past year, especially jobs and workforce preparation," said state Rep. Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte. "In LaPorte County alone, within a 25-mile radius, there are close to 3,000 jobs that are out there and ready — but the job applicants don't have the schooling and skills to take them."
Bosma repeatedly declined to answer questions about how House Republicans will act on a proposal to add the state's existing ban on gay marriage and a new prohibition on civil unions to the Indiana Constitution.
"It is no doubt one of the hundreds of issues we will have to deal with this session, but it's not part of our agenda," Bosma said. "This (agenda) is something we're united on; there will be a lot of different opinions on that particular item."
Pelath said the scarcity of new ideas from the Republicans shows Bosma realizes the marriage amendment is going to produce more controversy than he may be able to handle.
"I don't know that there's anyone that's going to believe that dragging the state through this culturally and socially divisive issue is going to reflect well on Indiana before the eyes of the nation," Pelath said. "This looks like an agenda that is tailored to get out of the 2014 session as quickly as possible with as little damage being done."