By Scott Tibbs, May 22, 2001
The Indiana Legislature had a lot on their plate in 2001, and had an opportunity to do a lot for the people of Indiana. Unfortunately for Hoosiers, they failed miserably in their duties.
The coming court-ordered property tax reassessment is perhaps the most important issue facing Hoosiers this year, but the Legislature did not act on this at all. Instead, Speaker John Gregg's main focus was passing new State House and congressional districts gerrymandered to benefit his Democratic Party.
So, the business of property tax reassessment, which will result in a major tax increase for Hoosier homeowners, is being handled by the unelected Board of Tax Commissioners, instead of legislators who are directly accountable to the voters. By not dealing with reassessment, Gregg wasted a golden opportunity that will not present itself again for another four years. Legislative involvement in reassessment will not take place in either the 2002 or 2004 election years for obvious reasons, and is unlikely even in 2003, being so close to the gubernatorial election.
This is just simply poor leadership. People get out and vote every two years, placing their trust in the people they send to Indianapolis to do the people's business. Voters read the newspaper, read, see and hear political advertisements, and maybe even donate time and money to help a candidate. When the biggest issue in years comes before the House because of a ruling that our system of assessment is unconstitutional, the Legislature, led by John Gregg, punts the ball to someone else so he doesn't risk alienating potential voters, or maybe campaign contributors.
Speaker Gregg and the Indiana House did not completely ignore property taxes altogether though. At a time when legislators are asking for a significant pay increase, the Legislature repealed an exemption on taxes on personal property assessed up to $12,500. This tax break, passed two years ago with much fanfare, has gone the way of the dinosaurs. This is why Governor O'Bannon objected to the budget passed by his own party. John Gregg is asking Hoosiers to sacrifice in the form of higher taxes, but is not only unwilling to sacrifice himself, but actually tried to make himself better off through a pay raise, paid for out of your wallet.
Speaker Gregg also presided over a budgetary train wreck the likes of which Indiana has never seen before. The Legislature passed a budget with a deficit of over nine hundred million dollars. Think about this number: $900,000,000. Eight zeroes, and the largest budget deficit in Indiana history. Gregg and company managed to reduce the deficit through some accounting gimmicks and budgetary smoke and mirrors, but the fact remains that the surplus of over two billion dollars that was once Indiana's pride and joy is gone. In addition, Indiana's Constitution does not allow our state government to run a deficit. John Gregg and the Indiana Legislature are acting outside of their legal powers in passing this budget.
Speaker Gregg forced a Republican walk-out in the waning days of the 2001 legislative session because of his insistence that he get to play his political games on redistricting before handling the people's business by passing the state budget.
What of redistricting, Gregg's highest priority? Bedford, one county south of Bloomington, is in the same congressional district as Purdue University, but does not share a district with Indiana University. This makes no sense. Sure, it makes political sense, in creating a heavily Republican Fourth District, and keeping heavily Republican Lawrence County out of John Hostettler's Eighth District to give Democrats a better chance of defeating Hostettler in 2002, but one look at the map makes it obvious how gerrymandered the new Fourth is. A tiny sliver of Morgan County connects to the northern part of the Monroe County townships present in the new Fourth. Three Monroe County townships serve as a razor-thin bridge to put Lawrence County in the Fourth. Common sense would put Lawrence County and the western edge of Monroe County into the Eighth, removing enough of the northern edge of the new Eighth so that the population evens out. But Speaker John Gregg put partisanship ahead of having voters with common interests in the same district.
When concerned citizens showed up to speak on the new districts, Gregg whined to the press that the criticism was "politically motivated". This remark was completely hypocritical given that Gregg's main concern in redistricting was partisan politics. In addition, Hoosier voters should be outraged that the Speaker of the Indiana House, when faced with constituents exercising their constitutional right to speak their mind on issue, lashed out at those constituents and questioned their motives.
This is not the type of "leadership" we need in the Speaker's chair.