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The year ahead

Start of a newsy year

Stories, issues and people likely to make news in 2013

Pence
File
Overpass upgrades are likely to be part of the city’s Legacy Fund expenditures in 2013.
Ritz

Taxes

With federal tax rates somewhere between a state of flux and utter confusion, residents probably don’t want to even think about local and state taxes going up. But it appears likely Hoosiers will hear serious discussion on that issue, though a separate tax reduction is possible.

State transportation and local officials will press the General Assembly to increase revenue for road construction and maintenance on state highways, city streets and county roads. The idea of a license plate “fee” – easier for lawmakers to call it that instead of the more accurate “tax” – from $20 to $50 per vehicle per year has been floated. That seems more likely than an increase in the state’s gasoline excise tax, though it is possible lawmakers will redirect revenue produced by that tax as well as the sales tax on gasoline exclusively to road projects.

The 2013 city budget should pose relatively minor problems, but city officials could be looking at some major changes when they craft the 2014 budget. The full effect of tax caps is expected to hit the city harder than past years. And the possibility of raising county income taxes past 1 percent – a step a number of other Indiana counties have already taken – is real. If it doesn’t happen, expect to see budget and service cuts residents will really feel in 2014.

State legislators have been less than excited by Gov.-elect Mike Pence’s campaign pledge to cut state income taxes by 10 percent. For most Hoosiers, that would be a cut of one third of one percentage point, from 3.4 percent to 3.06 percent. But if Pence pushes hard – and lawmakers raise other taxes – the GOP-controlled legislature may feel pressure to make the cut.

Legacy projects

Local residents and visitors will see some of the first results of the Legacy Fund projects the City Council approved in December – with most of the visible work downtown.

Money from the lease and sale of City Light to I&M will pay to convert Ewing Street and Fairfield Avenue to two-way streets with a roundabout at Superior Street. Construction will most likely begin this year with completion in 2014. Workers will also begin projects to improve the looks of major gateways into downtown as well as railroad overpasses, which will also receive new lighting and signage.

The city could begin awarding grants from the new downtown development and business funds; the University of Saint Francis will likely be one of the first applicants as it works to develop and expand its new downtown campus in the location of the former Scottish Rite auditorium.

The city will also undertake a study to determine what kinds of development could occur along the rivers, but don’t expect any construction until at least 2014.

Education

Some of the most heated and interesting debates this year could well focus on Indiana’s education policies, with a Democratic superintendent of public instruction taking office who has opposed much of her predecessor’s education agenda. But how much power Glenda Ritz can weld in slowing or reversing the changes is unclear, especially with incoming Gov. Mike Pence supporting them and a Republican-controlled legislature unlikely to undo steps it took in the last few years.

Watch for Ritz to push for accountability of private schools accepting taxpayer-financed vouchers, as well as to crack down on charter schools with test scores that have lingered in the cellar of statewide score rankings. A recent Stanford University study praised the charters the Indianapolis mayor’s office has sponsored but questioned Ball State University’s charter record. Ball State will decide by March 1 whether to renew the charters of three Fort Wayne schools – Imagine Schools on Broadway, Imagine MASTer Academy and Timothy Johnson Academy.

At the same time, Republican lawmakers do not seem eager to implement any more radical changes, sensibly calling for the state to evaluate the effects of the numerous changes launched in the past two years.

Early this year, the Indiana Supreme Court is likely to rule on whether the state’s voucher program is acceptable under the Indiana constitution. A ruling against the state would cause legislators to dump the current program and try again, though such a decision seems unlikely.

Politics

Because Indiana has no elections this year, voters will get a break from the barrage of campaigning they saw last fall. But, of course, politics in various forms will still make news.

Later in the year, politicians will be positioning for the 2014 primary, with most incumbents likely deciding by the end of the year whether to seek re-election. They include three-term Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, seven-term state Sen. Thomas Wyss and five-term County Commissioner Linda Bloom.

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