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Indiana lawmakers to take up property tax caps

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The leader of the Indiana Senate has promised swift action in the Republican-ruled chamber on legislation dealing with property tax caps and unemployment insurance premiums when the General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday.

The Democrat-controlled House also could take up the property tax cap measure and other bills after unusual December committee hearings made them eligible for floor action.

If both chambers pass the property tax measure, voters would decide in November whether to put property tax caps in the state constitution. State law now limits homeowners’ bills to 1 percent of their homes’ assessed value, with 2 percent limits for rental property and 3 percent limits on business property.

Proponents of the caps want them amended into the constitution to make it harder for future legislatures to undo.

Both chambers passed the constitutional resolution in 2008, but they must pass it again for it to be eligible for a statewide vote in November.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he hopes the resolution will pass in the Senate early next week.

The caps would save property owners an estimated $465 million in 2010, but without that money, local governments and schools could have to cut services.

“We need to give the people of Indiana a chance to vote on this,” Long said.

House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, would only say that fast action on the measure was possible in his chamber.

Long and Bauer appear at odds over a bill that would delay increases on taxes employers pay into the state’s unemployment insurance fund. The fund has been paying out hundreds of millions of dollars more in benefits than it has been taking in and has been forced to borrow about $1.5 billion from the federal government.

Bauer said a tax increase might be needed to help the unemployment insurance fund become solvent.

But Senate Republicans, including Long, want to delay a tax increase until next year. They say failing to do so will force businesses to lay off workers, further damaging the state’s economy.

Long also said the federal government might forgive the loans and predicted legislation delaying the increase would pass his chamber next week.

The House will likely take up a bill Bauer sponsored to tighten lobbying and ethics rules.

It would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists for one year after their terms expire, regardless of whether they complete their terms. It also would require lobbyists to report gifts worth $50 or more, including meals, drinks and tickets to events. The current threshold is $100.

The bill also would bar the governor from raising campaign contributions during the long, budget-writing sessions the General Assembly holds in odd-numbered years. Lawmakers are already prohibited from fundraising during that time.

Sen. Patricia Miller, R-Indianapolis, has filed an alternative ethics and lobbying bill supported by Long. It also would require lawmakers to report gifts worth $50 or more and wait a year before becoming a lobbyist.

One thing legislative leaders agree on is not passing bills that spend more money.

Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has already ordered $300 million in funding cuts for public schools and a $150 million reduction in state higher education spending because tax revenues are far less than expected. State agencies have been told to cut their budgets by 10 percent.

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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