DOUG ROSS: With taxes, actions still have consequences

2013-05-09T13:11:00Z 2013-05-09T22:21:10Z DOUG ROSS: With taxes, actions still have consequencesBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

This has been a big week for the convergence of taxes and politics — are those two ever separated? — in Northwest Indiana.

The Lake County commissioners are prepared to veto a county option income tax today, and Lake County Councilwoman Christine Cid seems unlikely, at least at this point, to vote to override that veto.

So what happens if the income tax fails and the county has to start cutting spending again to try to erase the $15 million — and growing — budget deficit?

One answer is to go back to the "red book," a 2008 proposal that borrowed heavily from the Good Government Initiative, which county officials politely listened to, then repudiated, years ago. The Good Government Initiative was a privately funded study of government operations in Lake County, funded by the county's biggest taxpayers.

The consultant recommended a number of major changes that could save the county money, like closing the satellite courthouses in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago. Instead, the commissioners spent more money on upgrades to those buildings to keep them open.

Closing those buildings, and making some of the other recommended changes, will require more than changing county officials' mindset. It also will require up-front money to achieve long-term savings. Can county officials think that far ahead? So far, there hasn't been much sign of it.

It's not just Lake County officials who have earned blame, either. The school property tax referendums just a few days ago are a symptom of that.

Voters in Munster, Union Township and three other school districts across Indiana voted Tuesday to raise their own property taxes to prevent additional spending cuts in their schools. Voters in Boone Township (Hebron) and Knox voted down requests for property tax increases.

Who's to blame for the mess school districts are in? Not the local school officials, by and large. Look to the Indiana General Assembly, which built up a big surplus after cutting the baseline for school support by $300 million.

Remember the idea of having the state eliminate the gap between haves and have-nots by taking over funding for school operations? You can forget it now because the state funding formula just reshuffled who has and who lacks. And over time these referendums, based on the results, are shuffling the haves and have-nots again.

Hebron school officials will make some deep cuts, then I expect the School Board will pursue another referendum for additional money to restore those cuts.

School tax increases aren't pleasant, but they're the price being paid for cutting state support. Failure to adopt a Lake County income tax, as every other county has done, would come at the expense of additional county jobs and services.

Actions have consequences, even in the world of taxes and politics.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. Follow him at www.facebook.com/doug.ross1 and on Twitter @nwi_DougRoss. The opinions are the writer's.

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