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The week ahead
Allen County Judicial Nominating Commission: 9 a.m. Thursday and Friday, Room 30, Council Committee Room, Citizens Square. Audience members are expected to remain quiet and are not permitted to question the candidates during their interviews.
Fiscal strategy meeting: 6 p.m. Wednesday, Omni Room, Citizens Square
Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
The biennial long session of the House has its final full week this week in Indianapolis.

Final faceoff on tax cut

The Indiana General Assembly begins its last full week of the session today, poised for a tax-cut showdown with first-term Gov. Mike Pence.

An encouraging revenue forecast last week gave Pence ammunition to push for the 10 percent income tax cut he first called for during his campaign. But fiscal leaders are no more enthusiastic about the proposal today than they were last summer.

The 10 percent cut is estimated to save a family with taxable income of $46,000 – the state’s household median – $156, little more than $3 a week. It would cost the state $500 million.

The State Budget Committee learned last week that the state could receive about $290 million more than expected in sales, income and other revenue over the next 27 months. The April revenue forecast generally serves as the basis for the final two-year budget proposal. The current Senate version of the budget gives the governor a fraction of the tax reduction he’s seeking; the House version omits it altogether.

Lawmakers have other ideas for the additional revenue, including the immediate end to the inheritance tax and the elimination of a banking tax. The House proposal creates a framework of $500 million in tax relief, even without Pence’s tax cut. They also have promised to restore funds for education and spend more on infrastructure.

“If they decide to do the whole 10 percent, it would probably not allow them to do many other kinds of things,” said John Ketzenberger, president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute. “It would really mean that education funding is going to be flatter, road funding is going to be flatter.”

There’s also been no great clamor from taxpayers for tax cuts. In November, 64 percent of respondents in a survey conducted by Ball State University’s Bowen Center for Political Affairs said they preferred investing the state surplus in education and job creation over tax cuts. Since then, most Hoosiers have enjoyed a $111 tax credit on their state income taxes.

Given that the tax-cut dispute is an intra-party squabble, don’t expect it to be aired publicly, and expect the lawmakers to prevail. House Democrats did some grandstanding when the House version of the budget was filed without the governor’s tax cut, but they aren’t likely to continue pushing for a measure that would reduce funding for schools and roads. Pence will have to point to other measures if he wants to claim his first legislative session as a success for the administration.

Judicial interviews

The Allen County Judicial Nominating Commission will meet Thursday and Friday in Fort Wayne to interview the eight attorneys who have applied for the judicial opening in Allen Superior Court.

State Supreme Court Justice Steven David heads the commission, which includes three local lawyers selected by their peers and three non-lawyers whom Gov. Mike Pence appointed.

The commission will choose three finalists, and Pence will select one of them for the position.

The candidates include two current magistrates – judicial officers with many of the same powers of a judge: Craig Bobay of Circuit Court and Jennifer DeGroote of Superior Court. Other applicants include Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander and Laurie Gray, a former deputy prosecutor. The remaining lawyers are all in private practice: John Cowan, Carrie Hawk Gutman, Michael Michmerhuizen and Patrick Proctor.

The new judge will replace Superior Court Judge Dan Heath in the Civil Division. Heath is transferring to the Family Division, where he will replace Judge Stephen Sims, who is retiring Friday.

Tax info in JG

The property tax bills Allen County property owners recently received list easy-to-understand information about your bill. But have you ever wondered how the tax rate you pay to live in, say, Aboite Township compares with Adams or Wayne? How does Fort Wayne’s city tax rate compare with New Haven’s and Woodburn’s? In which location do property owners pay the highest rate?

The Allen County auditor’s office presents that information in a large legal advertisement that will be in The Journal Gazette on Wednesday.

Note that residents of various areas pay different rates, even if they live in the same city. For example, Fort Wayne crosses several townships.

Rates, by themselves, are only one part of the formula that determines your tax bill, so the rate in one place may produce a different bill than in another place. But it is still a relatively helpful comparative guide.

Who pays the highest property tax rate? Residents who live in the portion of Fort Wayne that is in Perry Township and within the Northwest Allen County Schools district pay $3.745 per $100 assessed valuation, with more than 40 percent going to NACS. Residents of rural Jackson Township enjoy the lowest rate at $1.7152, mostly because the township includes no incorporated cities or towns, and East Allen County Schools has the county’s lowest rate of the four public school districts.

Budget strategy

For months the group of local government financing experts convened by Mayor Tom Henry held meetings to come up with options for dealing with an impending city budget shortfall caused primarily by decisions made by the Indiana General Assembly.

Then the group presented its findings to Fort Wayne City Council members. On Wednesday, city leaders will hold the first of two fiscal strategy meetings to share the information with residents and neighborhood leaders.

The property tax caps adopted by state legislators in 2009 have resulted in a $53 million loss of revenue to Fort Wayne. City leaders will soon have to make some difficult decisions about significantly cutting city services, raising taxes or some combination of both.